Today I want to talk about one of the tough spots I mentioned in my post about Rising Strong, and messy middles: holidays.
Christmas may be my favourite holiday and “the most wonderful time of the year,” but they require a special negotiation for me. FYI, it’s only 66 days away!
I love seeing my family and friends, and going home at the holidays. But all of these things—old faces, old places—can conjure up memories of my eating disorder. Being in a space where I’ve struggled can make old habits seem totally normal. Being around people who knew me when I was smaller comes with its own set of doubts. Comments like “You look so healthy!” always require self-reminding that “healthy” is not code for “fat,” as in ED’s language.
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween. These are certainly reasons to celebrate…and eat. I think that the traditions around eating at holidays are good—foot is not simply fuel—and that they can be enjoyed in moderation. A Christmas cookie or a turkey dinner in and of itself is nothing to worry about. But around the holidays, even seemingly otherwise “okay” people will start to do strange things with their eating—starving themselves all day to eat one big meal that leaves them with stomach pains on the couch, eating a half dozen cookies to get rid of them in one day so they can “be good” again once they’re all out of the house, etc.
Add to this the chance to spend lots of time with people and invariably experience the “I shouldn’t be eating this” conversations over the food that they—and therefore you—“shouldn’t be eating.” When I slow down and catch myself overdoing it on a “treat,” at the holidays or on a random Tuesday, it’s usually because I’m thinking that I shouldn’t be having it. Hearing that message externalized doesn’t help. It hurts me to see other people depriving themselves. I think it hurts more to see people beating themselves up for eating what they really want, which is another form of deprivation. I can’t always be strong enough to step up and encourage someone I’m around to just have the cookie, or talk to themselves like they would a child, but I wish I could. For now, I’m try to do my best to give that advice to myself.
Beyond trying to remember what I know—one cookie is okay, deprivation doesn’t work, food doesn’t taste good or hit the spot when you say that you shouldn’t be having it, self-talk matters—around the holidays, I also try to focus on the non-food parts of it. I love baking for people and seeing the joy that the treats can bring. I try to frame the food part in a fun way with that. I try not to play games with my eating on the day of a big meal. I try not to worry about what is or isn’t on other peoples’ plates.
I try, I try, I try…
I found this blog post by Jenni Schaefer, “Life Without Ed and the Holidays” (an excerpt from her book) helpful. Do you find holidays hard?