People often ask me how they can survive the holidays when they are struggling. I absolutely support that when food is the center of our activities that it can increase expectations and anxiety. I also know that in many ways, food needs to be the center of how we take care of ourselves when we are in recovery. The reality is how we engage with ourselves during the holidays should not be any different than how we engage with ourselves in our regular day to day. You don’t have to challenge yourself at every meal, but it is important that you push yourself to try the things you want to try and that you challenge yourself to focus on the emotional experience you want to have. I promise you, you won’t remember exactly what food you ate or didn’t eat at Christmas in a year from now, but you will remember, even the next day, whether the experience felt connected and if you created space for the things that bring genuine comfort.
I think one tool to focus on is to re-focus your “What Ifs.” Instead of focusing on all the negative what-ifs that can come from this time of year, reframe them and think of all the positive experiences that could come from this season. Replace “What if this food makes me gain weight” with “what if this holiday season works out for me by being really fulfilling” or “what if I get to enjoy some of our traditions more this year because I focus on being present” or “what if I make this holiday less about food and more about love.”
It is important to stop tripping yourself up about something that you are going to have to go through regardless (the day is going to come and go regardless of how anxious you become) and instead focus on things you can do to make it a positive experience. Please remember that anytime our eating disorder is calling the shots, it can’t be a positive experience. It might decrease your anxiety temporarily, but eating disorders do not add good things into our lives.
So take some time out to take a deep breath and to relax into what you want this holiday season to be. Focus on all the things that can go really well and watch your focus change from fear-based towards healthy goals.