The holiday season is fast approaching and you know what that means! Unwanted comments about your body and appearance from Aunt Karen, a play-by-play of what you’ve already eaten so far from Uncle Joe, and your mother asking “haven’t you eaten enough?” as soon as you even consider gathering the courage to go for seconds of that amazing stuffing. For people with eating disorders, the holidays are not always festive, and I for one am sick of it. Some of my most traumatic food memories come from people being too aware of what was on my plate, family members being too comfortable with commenting on my body, and the idea that if you blurt out “I’m just saying” after stating something terribly offensive, it makes the offensiveness go away and now it’s your – the recipient’s – problem. As sad as it sounds, many of us who have suffered from eating disorders are very relieved this year that COVID is keeping gatherings as small as possible and we probably won’t have to encounter some of the shockingly bold people that we usually sit across from at holiday dinners. However, I have created a guide on how to survive the holidays with grace and good cheer, spreading the type of joy, happiness, and kindness that one should always strive to spread!
Here is my tip for those in recovery (or preparing to begin their recovery journey) for surviving the holidays’ relentless reminders of food, food labeling, and body negativity: try to remember that not everyone thinks like us. I know, it’s weird, right? It is still strange to me that not everyone has a panic attack thinking about the calories in a slice of pumpkin pie. It’s strange to me that someone saying that I look “nice” probably isn’t secretly telling me that my body is actually the wrong size and shape and that I should probably disappear. Sometimes, these little moments of explosive reactivity make me forget that my thoughts aren’t always normal. The hairpin trigger reactions that I am so used to having – because somewhere along the line I was conditioned to hate myself and my body and the fact that I take up space – are not always appropriate. This is why I go to therapy. This is why I work on myself and take time to practice being uncomfortable and facing difficult situations. Because my eating disorder is not everyone’s eating disorder, and after so much time in therapy I have finally realized that innocent bystanders probably don’t deserve to be punished because I have a love/hate relationship with food and because passing around rolls at the dinner table makes me anxious. Remember to breathe, remain calm, have a friend or love one to reach out to on standby if you’re losing it, and don’t forget that you are deserving of enjoying the holidays just like everyone else. You are allowed to take up space, and if it is truly too difficult to participate this year, you are allowed to give yourself the room you need, both physically and emotionally, to safely and happily navigate the season.