As far as food is concerned, my thoughts about the final food-fest of the year are, “Why did I do that?”
I know all about these tips and have read them every year for the last three years so I will handle the holidays in a healthier fashion than my starve/purge default. This year was no exception as far as the reading goes, but execution was horrible.
To understand how I handled this year’s Christmastime meals, think about the good ol’ days of junior high. You’re assigned a speech. In the days leading up to the speech, you make meticulous notes and rehearse constantly, thinking that preparation will keep you from reading completely off your notes. In junior high, that gives you a high grade, even if you slacked a little on the research. The big day arrives. You wear your nicest outfit, make sure your hair is meticulous and rehearse one more time right before class. Perfect delivery. You’re ready. And then, suddenly, you’re in class and it’s your turn to speak. You stand up in front of everybody, and just as you open your mouth to speak, you suddenly realize that you have no idea what you’re supposed to say. The nervous energy overcomes you and you buckle. You stutter the first few sentences of your speech, look at your notes, say a few words, hesitate, look at notes again. You try so hard not to look at your notes, so you wing it, forgetting the word-for-word rehearsal you perfected just before class. You forget an entire section of your speech, but by the time you remember it, it’s too late. You’re entering your conclusion. You finish the damn thing just so you can sit down and sulk. The execution of the speech haunts you for the rest of that week and you’re left wondering what the heck went so wrong.
Yeah, my Christmas mealtimes went something like that. So let’s look at this in a little more detail and grade my holiday performance based on the University of Pennsylvania’s tips.
Tip #1: Eat regularly and in some kind of reasonable pattern. Avoid “preparing for the last supper.” Don’t skip meals and starve in attempt to make up for what you recently ate or are about to eat. Keep a regular and moderate pattern.
Result: FAIL. In anticipation of huge meals all day Christmas Eve, I skipped breakfast, ate a huge lunch with the in-laws and then really went overboard at my family’s dinner so they wouldn’t give me those damn “Is that all you’re eating?” comments. Despite stuffing myself silly, my mother was still pushing dessert on me, despite eating some rich (but delicious) portions already. I thought that eating with vigor would keep her at bay, but not entirely. By the end of the night, I felt uncomfortable from eating so much food and felt defeated in the game I was playing. I ate. I ate a lot. She still bugged me to eat more. Why can’t she just leave me alone? More importantly, why am I trying to placate somebody that won’t stop pushing food on me no matter how much I eat? I know better.
Christmas day wasn’t a whole lot better. We ate a sugary breakfast at my mom’s house that spiked my glucose levels through the roof, and again, she tried pushing more food on me and my husband than we could possibly eat. Stop that, mom! The breakfast was nice, really, but it set me up for failure for a second day in a row. I’ve always felt horrible about eating something super sugary for breakfast, probably because it makes my body feel horrible for the rest of the day. Once you’re on the “sugar treadmill,” getting off is virtually impossible. It instills the “fuck it, I’ve already ruined the day eating-wise, so why not royally mess it up” mentality. So that’s what I did. The treats at work I usually have no problem ignoring? Ate some. The pie I brought for everyone at work? Ate a slice. All of those rich treats, combined with normal lunches and dinners, summed into way too much food.
Then, yesterday, I followed up nicely by eating a less-than-healthy dinner out with friends. My body is still wondering what the hell I’ve done to it. I can tell it wants real food, but it’s still too busy processing the crap, so my hunger signals are messed up. Correcting this should be fun. Not.
Tip #2: Worry more about the size of your heart than the size of your hips! It is the holiday season, a great time to reflect, enjoy relationships with loved ones, and most importantly a time to feel gratitude for blessings received and a time to give back through loving service to others.
Result: 3/4 win. After all the food I ate, I must confess, the size of my hips was a concern. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the time spent with family and friends and it was a wonderful Christmas in this respect.
Tip #3: Discuss your anticipations of the holidays with your therapist, physician, dietitian, or other members of your treatment team so that they can help you predict, prepare for, and get through any uncomfortable family interactions without self destructive coping attempts.
Result: Fail. My therapist is at the college I go to, so I haven’t seen her since early December. We didn’t talk much about holiday eating. Doing so might have helped.
Tip #4: Have a well thought out game plan before you go home or invite others into your home. Know “where the exits are,” where your support persons are, and how you’ll know when it’s time to make a brief exit and get connected with needed support.
Result: Fail. I didn’t prepare much for the Christmas festivities since Thanksgiving went fairly smoothly this year. I felt confident about handling it, but I have learned that my confidence only comes from planning, which I (apparently) still need.
Tip #5: Talk with loved ones about important issues: decisions, victories, challenges, fears, concerns, dreams, goals, special moments, spirituality, relationships and your feelings about them. Allow important themes to be present and allow yourself to have fun rather than rigidly focusing on food or body concerns.
Result: (Mostly) win. Food issues aside, the holiday was fantastic. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed each others’ company. We didn’t have any deep, probing discussions, but we did have our usual after-dinner conversation that consists largely of sharing our favorite family memories.
Tip #6: Choose, ahead of time, someone to call if you are struggling with addictive behaviors, or with negative thoughts, or difficult emotions. Call them ahead of time and let them know of your concerns, needs, and the possibility of them receiving a call from you.
Result: Fail. Usually Patrick is my rock when food issues turn downward. I haven’t discussed any of this with him (sorry, babe). I’m coming out with it now and once I am done writing this, I think I’ll be over it. What’s done is done. My body will normalize again and I’ll be fine.
Tip #7: If it would be a support or help to you, consider choosing one loved one to be your “reality check” with food, to either help plate up food for you, or to give you a reality check on the food portions which you dish up for yourself.
Result: Automatic win. I don’t need help with this one anymore. I know what a sensible portion is, but my overall intake wasn’t sensible for my body’s needs.
Tip #8: Write down your vision of where you would like your mind and heart to be during this holiday time with loved ones. Take time, several times per day, to find a quiet place to become in tune again with your vision, to remember, to nurture, and to center yourself into those thoughts, feelings, and actions which are congruent with your vision for yourself.
Result: Half win. I’ve never followed this tip as far as writing it all down is concerned. I skip the writing and work directly on my mindset. My mind was in the right place, but clouded with the torment of thoughts surrounding food.
Tip #9: If you have personal goals for your time with loved ones during the holidays, focus the goals around what you would like to do. Make your goals about “doing something” rather than about trying to prevent something. If you have food goals, then make sure you also add personal emotional, spiritual, and relationship goals as well.
Result: Fail. My food goal was to have my mom stay off my back about my food intake, and this was a goal of a preventative nature. I didn’t make any other goals.
Tip #10: Work on being flexible in your thoughts. Learn to be flexible in guidelines for yourself, and in expectations of yourself and others. Strive to be flexible in what you can eat during the holidays. Take a holiday from self imposed criticism, rigidity, and perfectionism.
Result: Well-intentioned fail. Now that I think about it, this is what I was aiming for. I was going to let myself eat and enjoy what I wanted; plus, I granted myself the freedom to eat at random times instead of the usual schedule my body follows. I most definitely threw rigidity out the window, but I went overboard and it all backfired. It turns out that my all-or-nothing thinking still exists.
Tip #11: Stay active in your support group, or begin activity if you are currently not involved. Many support groups can be helpful. 12-step group, co-dependency group, eating disorder therapy group, neighborhood “Bunco” game group, and religious or spiritually oriented groups are examples of groups which may give real support. Isolation and withdrawal from positive support is not the right answer for getting through trying times.
Result: Ultimately, win. I’m not a member of a support group - we don’t have any for eating disorders where I live. But I am looking forward to seeing my therapist after break. We will inevitably talk about how the holidays went.
Tip #12: Avoid “overstressing” and “overbooking” yourself and avoid the temptation and pattern of becoming “too busy.” A lower sense of stress can decrease a felt need to go to eating disorder behaviors or other unhelpful coping strategies. Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations and leave time for relaxation, contemplation, reflection, spiritual renewal, simple service, and enjoying the small yet most important things in life. This will help you experience and enjoy a sense of gratitude and peace.
Result: Win! Finals in early December were a busy time, but once I finished them, I worked on Christmas gifts, decorations, etc., so they weren’t done at the last minute. We declined an invite to a party when we felt more comfortable staying in. I refused participation in the numerous food festivities at work. We weren’t overbooked and my sanity stayed in check as a result.
Overall, I feel 50/50 about this year’s Christmas festivities. I really enjoyed and savored the moment with friends and family, which is something I have sometimes taken for granted in previous years. Food issues still cloud my brain, but I think I’ll get over it in a day or two. I should have prepared much more in terms of handling food anxiety; doing so might have kept me from entering the “fuck it, I’ll just eat everything in sight” mentality. Fortunately, there’s next year.