Happy Easter, Y’all!
Thought this might be a relevant time to talk about this subject given that this is a day filled with chocolate bunnies and candy-filled eggs.
Let me start off by making the very blanketed statement that holidays are hard when you have an eating disorder.
There’s pressure to stay present, pressure to eat around multiple people, pressure to eat different things. Pressure to “veer off course” if you will.
For me personally, it opens up the doors to the cycle- especially that of bulimia and binge eating. In my worst years, I’d end up cycling through all the eating disorder behaviors like a Ferris Wheel. If we had family coming for a holiday, I didn’t eat in the morning. Even when they’d arrive, I stayed upstairs pretending to be “getting dressed” so I could avoid the buffet of finger foods and appetizers my mother always cooks. (Such a shame looking back as she’s the Betty Crocker of this decade.. all the more reason I avoided it!)
One year into recovery, it still continues to stress me out at times. All the little foods, all the dips and the chips. My God- do you ever really know how to monitor when you’re full, or what you’re eating when you’re just taking bites of everything?
Holiday eating is typically a grand affair in most families and it’s no different in mine; a full 5-star dining experience in the Hall household- finishing with a slew of desserts. Pie, angel food, better-than-sex- cake (it’s as good as it sounds), you name it.
It’s wonderful for people who eat with normal daily food habits. It’s wonderful to indulge in treats and courses of food and the dips when you’re aware enough and mentally healthy enough to understand that one day isn’t going to cause you to gain weight- but for someone with an eating disorder it’s often daunting.
I’m better now- I have been able to handle the past few holidays with relative success- but it’s still like gearing up to get on a roller coaster every time I’m put in a situation with a lot of food.
Whether it be an office holiday party, a housewarming party, a wedding, or Easter- here are a few ways I’ve been able to cope with the stress of eating at a special occasion or holiday:
1.) #carpEDiem – In other words, seize your eating disorder before it seizes you.
Recovery or not, it’s okay that events are still hard. In fact, I’d roll my eyes and tell you you’re in denial if you didn’t agree.
So seize it. Wake up- start your day off with something that will put you at ease.
I run usually. I run it out before it can get me. Doesn’t always work all day, but it does put me on the right track.
For Thanksgiving this year, I asked my Dad to go on a walk with me while my mom baked. I needed out of the house, I needed to stay out of the kitchen for a bit- and he gladly complied.
Walking around my neighborhood at 1030am with my dad gave me the ease I needed to start the day. Talking about life and all the other amazing things going on in my life was enough to remind me that there’s more than my eating disorder to think about. We went a couple miles, turned around, came back. And by the time we got home, I was more in the mindset of enjoying my family and remaining present then letting the stress of food get to me.
It’s okay to take time for yourself if you need it. I used to think it was dramatic of me that I felt so stressed about being around food- but once I was sitting in rehab, I realized it’s one of the most common feelings.
2.) The Little Lord Fauntleroy Move –
Both my Mom and Dad have always laughed about how, as a child, whenever I was done with the gum I was chewing- I’d take it out of my mouth, hold it out between my thumb and forefinger, and wiggle it around announcing to them both:
Sadly, 20 years later I’m still making the same moves. (But, hopefully with less entitlement.)
Truth is, I do ask my parents to get my plate for me during holiday meals, and it works for me. One of them asks which food items I’d prefer, I tell them, and they go through and get it for me.
Does it sound weird? Sure. But I don’t do well when I’m forced to walk down a line of random foods. I feel my little wackadoodle neurotransmitters misfiring into planet eating disorder and I tend to either freeze and give up before I’m done, or more likely than not get too little food on my plate.
I don’t like feeling like people are watching me fill my plate; that every eye is looking down at my scoop thinking potentially ”Oh… she sure had herself a HEARTY scoop of that potato salad….” and I have that tick in my head that’s telling me to be cautious of how much I get because I won’t have any clue how many calories are in what portion.
In my healthy mind, it all sounds so self-absorbed doesn’t it? Well, it is.
But my healthy mind and my wackadoodle eating disorder planet are two totally separate entities and at this point, all I can do is shrug and say ”Eh.”
I can’t stop the self-absorbed part of me from taking over. I’m working on it. I refuse to accept that it’ll be something that consumes me forever (or hell, I’m gonna be a terrible mother) but at this point in my life, it still does from time to time.
So, I ask someone, and I find it works with more than just my parents. (Shout out to Anne Jameson- my second mother for always)
For their annual ”Thanksgiving reunion with the Jamesons” this year, I simply pulled her aside and said:
“Hey- I know this sounds weird… but do you mind putting a plate together for me?”
Admittedly, she first looked at me a little bewildered. Probably wondering if I didn’t like something- or more likely, scanning me to see if I was drunk… but when I explained it as just one of my “little ED tactics,” the lightbulb went off and she happily put together a plate of enchiladas and some beans and rice for me.
What I’ve found through my experience is that people WANT to help you, but oftentimes those closest to you are so utterly baffled as to how to go about doing it that they simply just stay quiet for fear of making it worse.
If you’re in recovery, you have a responsibility to take it by the horns, so to speak. People will never cater to your eating disorder because they simply don’t even know how to. Don’t expect people to mind-read your needs. They won’t. I was (unfairly) resentful of my friends and family for years because I was “so sure” they were purposely trying to make me eat too much, or put me in situations that I didn’t know how to handle with food.
It’s ridiculous. They didn’t know- they were completely oblivious to the mind games in my head- but back on planet wackadoodle, I was conspiring all the different ways I “assumed” people were “trying to get me.”
The more you’re open about what you need for recovery the more you realize that your needs aren’t necessarily that big of a burden.
So my parents have to get me a plate? Who cares? No one. I doubt the rest of my family even really notices and even if they did, I think we’re all on the same page about my eating disorder and all would be willing to throw in a hand.
Just recently, we had an office luncheon with a buffet full of Mexican food. Feeling completely overwhelmed (Mexican has always been a binge genre for me), I sat at the conference table biding my time to go up there (I was going to wait till everyone else had gone) when my coworker (now my new roomie) sat down next to me and whispered the magic words:
“Linds- Hey. You want me to get you a plate?”
Staring at her, I literally felt tears well behind my eyes.
“God thank you,” I said- nodding my head. “How’d you know?”
She shrugged. “You’ve told me before that you have your parents do that- just thought it might help here too.”
Now, Cori’s clearly a godsend. I don’t expect all my friends to just think of those things on a whim- but I will never forget that. Forever appreciative of her for that moment.
3.) Therapize yourself:
Is that even a word? Doubt it. I’m terrible at the English language- but this is versatile. By “therapize” I simply mean do something that’s higher than you.
Today, for instance, I went to church. Am I extremely religious? No. In fact, if you know me, you know I’m the first person to rant about the hypocrisy of organized religion.
But I do believe in almighty power. I do believe in God. And sometimes, it’s nice to be in the calming presence of church, which I remembered today on this Easter Sunday.
This entire weekend I felt like I’d been on the verge of a binge. I felt like the tick was getting louder and louder by the hour and that my rationale was fading into the oblivion no matter how many times I tried to run it out.
So I changed it up. I looked for a nondenominational service, and I went.
And ya know what? It worked. I naturally zoned out at times because I’m a space cadet, but the feeling like there was a calming presence in my life helped. The feeling that there’s something “bigger” than me helped me put in perspective where I’m at in my life.
I walked back afterwards and felt a quiet sense of peace.
But hey, ya don’t wanna go to church/temple/wherever. I get it- no judgements here. Oftentimes, I don’t really even think to go to Church so I call my therapist.
I text a rehab buddy.
I voice it to someone, because eating disorders thrive on secrecy- so call someone. Call NEDA if you have to. They have a hotline. (800) 931-2237.
Now, I have utterly ZERO idea whether the person on the other end will actually help you- but I felt it right to mention it.
Sometimes, I read pieces of Portia De Rossi’s eating disorder memoir, or Jenni Schaefer. Books can help. They can “therapize” when you need it on the go.
4.) “Let them (your family) eat cake”
Literally, let them.
For me, I feel the urge to binge a lot stronger when I’m already feeling “too full.”
I get this thought in my head like “FINE. I’VE ALREADY EATEN MYSELF INTO OBLIVION. WHY NOT EAT EVERYTHING. IT’S USELESS YOU’RE ALREADY SCREWED. YOU’LL NEVER GET IT OFF. EAT EVERYTHING.”
Which then just leads me to think:
“AT LEAST I’LL HAVE AN EXCUSE TO THROW IT UP LATER IF I EAT 15,000 CALORIES.”
Because of this mindset, I wait to have my cake at holidays. I let my fullness adjust- my stomach quiet. I let the mindfulness of my hunger cues take over so that when I DO have a bite of two of that better-than-sex cake, I’ll enjoy it instead of eating it like a human vacuum sucking in dust.
If my family wants cake before me, fine. That is okay. It is my choice just as much as it is theirs.
And I will have my dessert when I know I can enjoy it.
5.) Monitor the Wine, Linds
Probably my hardest thing to comply with- though I know it’s necessary.
I’ve finally started asking my parents to intervene when they see me getting the very classic wine-Linds red lips.
Truth is, alcohol doesn’t help. I know that. But as you’ve recently seen in my drunkorexia piece, it’s definitely something I hide behind in order to subdue the stress of large eating events.
This year at Christmas I had one glass of wine before the meal. And no, I didn’t pour half the wine bottle into one extra large glass- but I did have one. And one was fine until after the meal was over. One helped me feel a little less uptight without losing the mindfulness of the moment.
The point of holidays is to enjoy your family.
In recovery, I try so very hard to keep that in perspective.
Moments pass- and you don’t get them back. I regret so much of the years I spent consumed by my eating disorder.
I still spend too much of my time consumed by it on the holidays, but as long as I’m working on it- then I’m inching forward.
I’m criss crossing the highway sometimes- but I’m moving along.
And I know I’ll be okay.