Proud2Bme | 4 Ways to Embrace Freedom from ED This Holiday Season

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4 Ways to Embrace Freedom from ED This Holiday Season

By Annie Stewart--Oh, the joys of the holiday season. Joys? Really? For those who have once had an eating disorder or just beginning recovery or struggling to break free of ED, the holiday season is anything but joyous; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

I have been free of ED for eight years. In some ways, that period of my life that revolved around doctors, dietician and counseling appointments feels like a lifetime ago….but in other ways, I remember like it was yesterday. I remember the holiday period in general (October-January) being one of my biggest triggers….it was the time when I would have panic attacks; it was the time when I am most prone to relapse. Especially Thanksgiving.

Think about it: Thanksgiving is an entire day completely focused on food. Of course we know that eating disorders have very little do with food. We know than eating disorder is a way to numb pain, a way to deal with difficult emotions. We know there are root issues as to why eating disorders exist, root issues that are complex and are often traced back to one’s childhood. However, the way we have dealt with pain in our lives is through food, whether that is undereating or overeating. Thanksgiving is a reminder of the battle we fight every day; the battle to not let food control our lives. Therefore, if you survived Thanksgiving….or if you are choosing to face this holiday rather than run away from it, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back. That in itself is a victory.

Recovering from an eating disorder is unique from other addictions because one must confront the substance (food) that is being abused every single day. If we do not eat, we will die. Not only that, but we are bombarded with messages from the media about food, health, and exercise day in and day out. Therefore, if one is to overcome an eating disorder, it is imperative to find way to deal with these messages.

So, as I look back to my fifteen year old self, I thought about what I would have wanted to say to myself years ago. I write this with the hope that perhaps these will help someone else.

1). Remember it is just one day out of 365. Just because others are focused on eating enormous amounts of food does not mean you have to. Just because others may be talking about how guilty they feel for what they are eating doesn’t mean you need to live in that guilt. Treat Thanksgiving for what it actually is—just another meal. YOU are the one who decides how much control this meal has over you. Don’t let others influence how much you eat. Listen to your body—eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.

2). Focus on the positives. I can’t say I love Thanksgiving but this day no longer dictates how I feel about myself. When I think about Thanksgiving, I think about spending time with loved ones. I think about my friends’ families who treated me like their own daughter when I went to college on the opposite end of the country. I think about what I am thankful for (which is what Thanksgiving SHOULD be about). I consider how miraculous it is that I can have a positive and healthy relationship with food even though I live in a society that is so eating disordered.

3). There is indeed safety in numbers. Make sure there is at least one person you trust whom you are celebrating Thanksgiving with. Tell this person what triggers you, what you are struggling with. Be as specific as possible. Recovery is hard; there is no doubt about that. It is scary to leave your old self and emerge anew. However, is the most comforting feeling to know that there is someone walking with you in the dark, holding your hand, holding you up into the light.

4). Model self-care. One of the most important lessons I learned in recovery was the importance of self-care. I take time on a regular basis to engage in activities I enjoy. However, I am even more vigilent to do this around the holidays. Whether that is exercising (for pure enjoyment NOT to burn calories) or reading a book or buying a latte, or painting or listening to music, engage in activities that give you personal fulfillment and joy. I have learned that despite what my eating disorder used to tell me, there is nothing selfish about self-care. In fact, it is selfless to model self care. You cannot give love and devotion to any other human being if you cannot give it to yourself. Through loving myself, I have learned what it really means to give love to another.

I can say with complete transparenecy that I no longer have an unhealthy relationship with food. Frankly, I love food! I enjoy cooking and finding new farmers markets is a favorite hobby. When I visit a new city, my favorite activity is to try out the best restaurant or coffee shop as a way to get an idea of what the culture is like. And I have found no greater joy than listening to my body. One of life’s greatest gifts are what our bodies do for us—the ability to walk, ran, talk, sing and dance. I don’t feel any shame about this body that God has entrusted me with. Of course, I’m not perfect. I still live in a world where there is pressure to look like her, or eat that, or run x amount of miles a week. But the thing is, the rules about food and diet and exercise that far too many of us have abided does not control me anymore. And it doesn’t have to control you either.

As you go into the holiday weekend, may you remember these truths….May you know that you are loved and valued for just the person that you are. May you know that your worth and value has nothing to do with how little or how much you eat…..and how little or how much you exercise. May you know that your body is a precious gift; may you treat it with love,honor and respect because YOU are a person worthy of such things. May you wake up each morning with the knowledge that there is freedom and life and joy just waiting for you to uncover. May you say goodnight each evening with a cup of green tea to warm the soul, a great book to calm the mind and good music to uplift your spirit (or well those are my favorite things….what are yours?) And with arms lifted high to the sky, your entire body and spirit open to the endless possibilities of a new day, may you embrace freedom in all of her glorious fullness.


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