4 Ways to Help Promote Your Recovery in 2017

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By Ashley Prewitt

Now that the holiday season is over, it’s finally time to relax!

No more spending money on presents your parents aren’t going to use, no more kissing your great aunt Sharon that you met when you were three, and no more insane amounts of Tupperware filled with leftover mashed potatoes that are taking up your fridge space (seriously though—where am I supposed to put my leftover Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo?!)

With New Year’s just a few days away, we can expect a plethora of posts on social media about everyone’s resolutions for 2017. The stress of the holiday season doesn’t exactly end with Christmas, and we are quickly approaching a difficult time of year for many people struggling with eating disorders.

Did you know that the two most common New Year’s resolutions are to stay fit and healthy and to lose weight[1]? Hearing all this talk about weight loss and staying healthy in 2017 can put a halt to those with eating disorders who are working hard towards recovery.

Rather than letting these resolutions hinder your recovery, here are four ways to help promote your recovery in 2017:

Talk to a professional.

I’m sure this is at the top of the list on every article ever written about recovering from an eating disorder, for good reason. It is so important to talk to a professional to help promote your recovery. A professional (therapists, psychologists, dieticians, etc.) will help you work on improving your mental health and will help you combat the negative feelings you may be experiencing. So to promote your mental health in 2017, make the call—or even send an email! Do anything you can to start this process. Although fees for these services can be scary, look at the different resources in your community to help you achieve this. If you already have professional services, yay for you! Continue to make and keep your necessary appointments, and keep it up!

Find a new coping or self-soothing skill

Coping skills have been defined as learned resourcefulness or a set of skills which a person uses to control certain internal events that might cause him or her unwanted pain, feelings, or fear. Although they won’t cure your eating disorder, these activities can comfort you in times of need and help you move forward along the road to recovery!

Let’s make a list of coping skills:

  • Coloring
  • Drawing
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Reading a book
  • Watching a show
  • Meditation
  • Knitting
  • Taking a light hike

These are the more common types of coping, or self-soothing, activities done, and I’m sure you’ve seen them be recommended. Why? Because they can work!

However, have you ever thought of learning a new instrument? What about making your own bath bombs? Or researching and becoming an expert on the Texas blind salamander (they are on the endangered species list—why can’t I put a crying emoji in a blog post)?

Establish a trusted mentor or support group

Having others around you who are supportive and understanding of your eating disorder recovery can play a crucial role in your recovery in the new year. Support groups are offered in many places. You can find a support group no matter where you live. A simple Google search will give you options, and even some that may take place online. If you are a college student, check to see if there is a Project HEAL Chapter. If not, start one! Take advantage of the free groups, and try your best to attend when you can.

Skip the resolution; make a change

7362406262_13ac762eb0_oSorry for throwing out so many statistics in this article, but did you know that only 8% of Americans succeed in following through with their New Year’s resolutions[2]?. I believe that resolutions fail because they are too vague, out of our reach, or are not as important as we thought at the

beginning of the year. Think about where you were in life six months ago; hasn’t your life changed a lot since then? I know mine has. So, why do we even make resolutions that we don’t follow through with? Because everyone else is doing it!

To promote your recovery in 2017, make a change. Don’t just set a few goals for recovery for the hell of it! If you are seriously about wanting to make goals for the new year, the best way is by working with professionals to set realistic, measurable, and time-limited goals.

Believe in yourself, be kind to yourself, and be committed to making a change in your life. You shouldn’t even wait for a new year to make this change; start as soon as possible!

Although the holidays can be daunting, don’t let New Year’s halt your recovery. Instead, let this year be a year of growth. Make sure to have the best 2017 you can have by getting professional help, finding fun, new coping skills, establishing uplifting support groups, and making changes.

Recovering from an eating disorder may not be easy, but do not let that tear you down. 2017 is a new year. You know that saying, “New year, new me.”? Don’t think you have to change how you are. You do not need to become a new person this year. Become a better you. Aspire to work on your recovery—actually don’t just aspire, do it. Make sure you are doing all that you can to promote your recovery in 2017 and be a better you!

 


 

About the Author:

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I am a 22-year-old student on the path to earn my Bachelor’s in Social Work. I’m married to the most handsome man who may or may not love our dog more than me. I’m a lover of bananas, McDonald’s fries, and Adam’s natural PB (I seriously go through more than a jar a month.). Oh, yeah, I’m also fully recovered from Anorexia Nervosa. Be sure to visit my blog, Normally Recovered.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/2015s-top-new-years-resolution-fitness.html

[2] http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

Round Table with the Experts: How to Survive the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

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By Melainie Rogers, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD

The Holidays are often said to be the most wonderful time of year. For many, it is a time to see loved ones, eat delicious food and celebrate the New Year. But for the 30 million Americans struggling with eating disorders, this time of year can be stressful and overwhelming.

For those in recovery from Anorexia, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia or other eating disorders– it is anything but easy. Whether someone is a year into stable recovery or 10 years into his or her process of healing, there are many components that can still make the holidays an ultimate challenge.

As a dietician and the owner of BALANCE eating disorder treatment center in New York City, I know how crucial it is to prepare clients in our program for this difficult period. In an effort to shed light on these struggles I wanted to come up with a comprehensive arsenal of tips & coping strategies to help those recovering from eating disorders. Therefore, at BALANCE we recently hosted a Twitter Chat with leading eating disorder professionals and organizations dedicated to helping those who suffer from this complex illness. With our experienced co-hosts, we discussed the struggles that arise and explored various ways to address specific concerns related to recovery during the holiday season.

I am pleased to be able to share with you the responses we received from experts in the field. We hope that together we can help to make this holiday season a happy and healthy one!

  1. What makes the Holidays so difficult for those struggling with eating disorders? Why is there often an increase in eating disorder symptoms during this time?

Brian Pollack LCSW, who is currently the only male Certified as an Eating Disorder Specialist in the entire state of NJ and on the board of The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders says, “The holidays are a time when the social expectation to connect and “love one-another” is all over the television and media. Many of us with eating disorders struggle to find comfort in doing this on any other day – but when there is pressure to love and be loved, we want to hide and use whatever we can to remain safe. Additionally, with the holidays often surrounding food, we often can feel like sheltering ourselves in is a safe way to avoid all the expectations, anxiety, and judgment of our love ones.”

  1. What normal day-to-day recovery challenges are amplified during the Holidays? What kind of preparation is effective?

Norman Kim, the Director for Program Development at Reasons Eating Disorder Center and Center for Change comments as follows; “For many people in recovery, one particular challenge that is amplified is how to manage your own and others’ expectations that one ought to be filled with the joy and happiness of the holiday season.  During those moments when how you are feeling internally may not match the festive nature of the holiday season, that discord can amplify your internal struggle as well as increase the pressure you might feel to put on your “happy” face for others.  Even when that is true for you, because you are also struggling with the daily challenges that come along with the process of recovery, it may be difficult to be as expressive about it. In terms of trying to prepare – you can practice whatever skills help you to ground yourself emotionally, and find meaningful ways to practice giving yourself compassion and grace to relieve some of the pressure.  I cannot imagine a better and more deserved present you can give yourself than that.”

  1. Many people feel an immense pressure to appear perfect, especially with family members or friends they haven’t seen in a while. Do you believe perfectionism plays a role with eating disorder struggles during the Holidays? What are ways to overcome this?

We asked Megan Bruneau for her input on this question- Megan is a mental health therapist and Forbes podcast host who has personal experience of recovering from perfectionism-fueled depression, anxiety and eating disorders. She told us “Perfectionism always plays a role in eating disorder struggles, holidays or not! Remember that what drives the desire to “appear perfect” is a fear of uncomfortable feelings. We think that in creating a false sense of control and predictability, we’ll protect ourselves from anxiety, insecurity, hurt, loneliness, etc–that we’ll protect ourselves from vulnerability.

Difficult feelings are a part of the human experience, and the more we avoid them the more power they have over us. Perfectionism-fueled ED behaviors often ramp up over the holidays because the holidays tend to be more triggering of those difficult feelings and vulnerabilities–for example, lack of structure and routine, complex family dynamics, triggering foods, alcohol, etc. My advice would be to really ramp up the self-compassion, trying to acknowledge, make space for, and validate as many of the difficult feelings as possible.”

  1. The use of behaviors like restricting, purging or binging arise when there is immense stress. What self-care and stress management tips would you give to someone struggling to help them overcome the overwhelming Holiday season?

Project HEAL’s Director of Communications, Brian Kearney, told us, “Some tips to help navigate the holiday season for those struggling would be to use healthy coping skills that you find are already working for you. Just because it’s the holiday season does not mean you need to change how you handle stress and triggering situations. Participating in family conversations and basking in the love that’s surrounding you can also be helpful.”

Megan Bruneau also added, “Anticipate triggering and vulnerable situations, and ask yourself what you need for support; but also recognize that a slip-up or relapse means you probably stepped out of your comfort zone in some way. Consider it an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you need to have a more serving response to a triggering situation the next time around. Finally, connect! ED will tell you to isolate; to go to the gym, skip a family meal or holiday party, etc. While it’s important to set boundaries and take time for self-care, be honest with yourself about what’s driving your desire to isolate.”

  1. Often times it can be helpful to distract oneself from the Holiday craziness. What are some festive, yet non-food related activities someone struggling could plan to do during this season to distress?

Stacey Lorin Merkl, founder and executive director of the organization Realize Your Beauty shares these thoughts, “reliving a happy childhood holiday memory can bring joy and take the focus away from food. For example, looking at lights, ice skating, singing holiday songs, or playing a board game. As an adult, this can also be an opportunity to create those memories with your own family and friends.”

  1. How do treatment professionals like therapists or nutritionists assist eating disorder clients during the Holidays? How can someone struggling apply this information on their own?

Being a clinician myself, I think it is critical to have a qualified treatment team in place is essential to providing a solid foundation of support to navigate the often unpredictable holiday stressors that someone struggling may encounter. Therapists help identify emotional triggers and can help explore feelings that otherwise may be repressed and acted out through eating disordered behaviors. While dietitians can help with setting up an appropriate meal plan and reinforcing mindful eating practices.

Unfortunately families can sometimes disappoint and not come through in meeting expectations. Having a strong team backing you up can make all the difference in the end and can often counter-balance negative family conflict and strife. If you find yourself alone and trying to cope with recovery issues there are many supports available to you and it is essential that you take advantage of them.

  1. College students return home during this time for Winter break and are quickly thrown out of structured routines. Why is this a prime time for relapses to occur? And in what ways can parents/families help a loved one with an eating disorder while they are home from?

Ginny Jones, the founder of More-Love.org, a website providing information to parents who have children with eating disorders told us, “The disruption of a break from college can make sticking to recovery plans even harder. The added stress that typically surrounds Holidays make it a prime time for relapse. If your college student has previously or is currently recovering from an eating disorder, then it is so important as a parent to plan ahead as much as possible to keep recovery on-track. For example, talk to your college-age child in advance about how best to structure the break. It’s been a while since she or he lived with you at home – what should you know about what works and doesn’t work now that she lives apart from you?

Also, consider carefully and discuss how holiday plans with extended family and friends might impact recovery. Remember that sometimes it’s best to downsize the holidays to focus on recovery, especially if holidays typically involve traveling to and staying at other people’s houses. Most of all, be sure to find ways to truly listen to your child when they are home from.”

  1. Many people struggling avoid treatment and higher levels of care, like residential treatment, during this time to be with family. What is your advice to people opting to delay treatment due to the Holidays?

Jenn Friedman, a singer-songwriter, eating disorder activist, speaker and mental health advocate says, “As someone who has recovered from eating disorders, I understand the pain that accompanies the inability to participate in the celebrations of life due to receiving treatment. While in treatment, I wanted nothing more than to be out in the world and so being in a hospital unit seemed like ultimate contrast to the freedom that seemed to lie just outside the door. That is where I was wrong. Being inside those doors was in fact my freedom. I was not ready to co-exist with triggers that would have inevitably presented themselves all around me.

You are building a muscle in treatment – the muscle that will let you live your life, participate in the holidays, be around people, be in various types of food situations – all without conditions. Treatment in the short-term is a means toward benefiting from recovery in the long-term. When you’re strong in recovery, not only will you be “allowed” to participate in the holidays – you will whole-heartedly CHOOSE to be PRESENT during them. That is worth waiting for.”

  1. There are so many food-focused events during the Holiday season. What are some ways to plan ahead for challenges around meals that may arise?

 Crystal Karges, a San Diego based dietician who is the Director of Content at Eating Disorder Hope told us, “Definitely work with your treatment team to go over possible scenarios you may encounter that could potentially be triggering.  Talking through these situations ahead of time and brainstorming effective ways to cope can be a helpful way for preparing for challenges that may arise around meals and other food related events.  Have your support and/or accountability system in place – whether someone you can text or call before/after a meal or someone you trust that you can periodically check in with during an event that may be potentially triggering.  Consider being involved or participating in non-food related activities around meals to give you the opportunity to engage with family and friends in a more relaxes setting.  Keeping a relaxed and flexible perspective on food/meals can also help you keep a situation more neutral.“

  1. What are some positive and healthy New Years resolutions to support recovery? And what are effective ways to shut down the inevitable and triggering “diet talk” at holiday dinners?

Diana Denza, the Communications Associate at the National Eating Disorder Association says, “General resolutions like learning a new skill, spending time with family, participating in a book challenge, or planning a vacation can take the focus off of weight and calorie-related goals. Avoid putting too much pressure on yourself in the New Year by holding yourself to unattainable goals. It’s one thing to say, “I’ll read more books than I did last year.” It’s another to try and break a near-impossible record. Remember – your well-being should always come first!”

Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor and host of the popular Food Psych podcast series based in Brooklyn says,  “There are two main strategies, and the one you decide to use will depend on the family and friends you are surrounded by, and your own comfort level discussing recovery and anti-diet topics. The first approach is the most direct: assert your needs, and explain to friends and family why comments about weight, calories, “cheat meals,” or “working off” holiday food are so damaging. The other approach is simply to change the subject, and leave any conversation you don’t feel comfortable in. If you go that route, you could consider calling or texting a compassionate friend for additional support. Remember that you have the right to remove yourself from any and all triggering situations, no explanation required! Use whichever one of these approaches makes you feel empowered and safe, and consider it an essential part of your holiday self-care practice.”

 

I want to thank all of our wonderful co-hosts for sharing their comments and advice via Twitter and by contributing to this article. We look forward to connecting with you and welcome further discussion on this important topic. Wishing you all a warm & peaceful holiday season!

 


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About the Author:

Melainie Rogers, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and accredited supervisor in the treatment of eating disorders. She is the Founder and Executive Director of BALANCE eating disorder treatment center™ and melainie rogers nutrition, llc in Manhattan. Among her many affiliations Melainie is the founder and recent past President of the New York City Chapter of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and currently an Advisory Board Member at the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia (CSAB). Melainie has earned a strong reputation among her colleagues as an expert in the field of eating disorders. She is a dynamic speaker and has been invited to present nationally and internationally on the latest scientific discoveries and treatment approaches within the eating disorder profession.

 

 

 

Hello 2016, Goodbye ED!

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new-year-menu

When the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, talk of resolutions for the New Year typically abounds. And it’s no secret that weight or fitness resolutions tend to top most people’s list of resolutions, for one reason or another. I am here to advocate against these types of resolutions. Why, you might ask? Well first and foremost, these resolutions are clearly detrimental to recovery. Resolving to stick to some diet or hit up the gym daily may actually be resolving to listen to ED’s siren call. Also, appearance-related resolutions are boring and uninspired. Why resolve to do the same thing that everyone else is doing when you could march to the beat of your own drum? Additionally, these types of resolutions are personally degrading and are a set-up for failure. Don’t make your main goal for the next year of your life to alter your appearance! Resolve to pour your time and energy into something more personally fulfilling, such as a new hobby. Finally, statistically speaking, only 8% of people successfully keep New Year’s resolutions, and that number decreases when only taking into account those who make weight and fitness-related resolutions.

 

So instead of resolving to join some lame gym, try undertaking one of these goals come 12:01, 2016. Make this the year of bringing healthy habits in, and kicking ED’s butt out!

 

  1. Accept your body: That’s right. The opposite of what most people resolve. Spend some serious time trying to provide your body with exactly the type of treatment that you know it deserves. Body love too lofty of a goal? That’s fine! Simply working on being ok with the body that you were born with. Work on appreciating the functional aspects of your most precious gift, your physical being. Body love will come.
  2. Do one thing that scares you for every year that you have been alive: Are you twenty years old? Then make a resolution for 2016 that you will do twenty things that scare you before the year is up. Scared to take some time off school or work for that much-needed vacation? Do it. Shaking in your boots when you think about cutting off your hair into that pixie cut that you have always secretly adored? Go for it. 2016 will be the year of conquering those pesky fears.
  3. Find a new hobby: Studies show that one of the most protective factors for self-esteem is having a hobby that one can lose themselves in from time to time. Explore the activities or crafts that you have always wanted to try, but never have. Take up knitting, buy a coloring book, take a jazz class, ask your Dad to show you how to change the oil or fix the alternator (too much?) Find new outlets to funnel your creative energy into.
  4. Volunteer somewhere: Make 2016 the year of giving back. Apply to walk dogs at your local animal shelter. Help out at the soup kitchen down the road. See if there is a hospice program in your area that accepts volunteers. When we spend time and energy giving back to those in need, we inevitably end up receiving much, much more than we give.
  5. Less things, more gratitude: Make a rule that you will buy less material items in 2016. Why? So that you can focus on appreciating what you do have. We live in a consumerist economy, and while I am just as up for a self-care mall trip as the next girl, acquiring things rarely leads to long-term mood changes. Instead it leads us to appreciate what we have less and want more of what we don’t have. Set a goal of not buying clothes for the next three months, vow to limit your shoe shopping sprees, or promise yourself that you will not buy anymore throw pillows for the next year. Then be sure to begin noticing all the wonderful things that you already have in your life by journaling about one thing that you are grateful for each day.
  6. Challenge your appearance rules: Take one day a week off from wearing make-up. Go to the grocery store in sweats. Wear something that you love but told yourself “is for other body types.” Challenge at least ten random appearance-based rules that you have made for yourself at some point throughout the New Year.
  7. Take on five major tasks that you have been putting off: Paint that room, apply for that new job, start searching for that new apartment. Make a list of your top five tasks that you have been putting off, but that you know must be done eventually and DO THEM. Thing about how good it will feel to check each one off of the list.
  8. Reach out to more people: Do you, like most of us, constantly find yourself wishing that you reached out to old friends or family more often? Make it a goal to actually do so in 2016. Life gets busy quickly, so it’s easy to put off phone calls or tell yourself that you will write that letter later. But there is no substitute for lasting connections with those who truly touch your heart, so pencil in weekly time for reaching out. You will feel better, I promise.
  9. Take a class: Sign up for that sign language course. Take the American literature class that you have been dying to do. Pick the course that you have always wanted to take on, and sign up. Don’t think, just do. You can thank yourself come 2017 when you are a wiz in sign language (or Spanish, or English literature, or whatever).
  10. Limit your social media usage: We are a phone-obsessed culture. Instagram, facebook and twitter take up far more time than most of us would like to admit. Set a daily or weekly limit for yourself for social media usage (i.e. “I will only check social media once a day”) and then stick to it! Then find something fun to do with all of your extra time!

 

Happy New Year Warriors!

-C

Recovery Christmas Carol

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Here is a Christmas carol created by a group of warriors, for the warriors. Sing it loud, sing it proud, and use to remind yourself that being in recovery for the holidays does not have to be one singular struggle- there are always flowers (in this case poinsettia flowers) for those who seek to see them.

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Recovery Christmas Carol

 

On the first day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the second day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the third day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the fourth day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the fifth day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the sixth day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the seventh day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, seven ways to embrace my natural body, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the eight day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, eight friendships blossoming, seven ways to embrace my natural body, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the ninth day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, nine wildest dreams a-realized, eight friendships blossoming, seven ways to embrace my natural body, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the tenth day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, ten ways to reject diet culture, nine wildest dreams a-realized, eight friendships blossoming, seven ways to embrace my natural body, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, eleven coping skills, ten ways to reject diet culture, nine wildest dreams a-realized, eight friendships blossoming, seven ways to embrace my natural body, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

On the twelth day of Christmas, recovery gave to me, twelve assertiveness strategies, eleven coping skills, ten ways to reject diet culture, nine wildest dreams a-realized, eight friendships blossoming, seven ways to embrace my natural body, six (thousand million) genuine smiles, five yummy desserts to try, four ways to ask for help, three ED-shut downs, two self-esteem boosts and a renewed sense of energy.

 

Happy Holidays Warriors!

To The Warriors This Thanksgiving

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This post is written by Emily Costa, Project HEAL’s Blog Manager

For those overcoming an eating disorder, Thanksgiving can be a challenging feat to overcome. Instead of posting a list of survival tips or anything like that, I wanted to write a letter of encouragement to whoever needs a little reminder that they can handle this day.

Dear image1warrior,

 I know Thanksgiving can be scary. The plethora of food, the relatives you haven’t seen in a while, the memories of behaviors used in past years flooding your mind. But I wanted to write to you to remind you that you can handle this. Lets take a moment to remember how far you have come. You are here, alive, and dedicating every fiber in your being to recovery. Did you forget how strong that makes you? Because I certainly haven’t.

 I want to remind you that this meal is just like any other – and just because there may be more delicious sides on the table, does not mean it has to be any scarier. Give yourself permission to enjoy the food and the company that surrounds you. What you eat at this meal is not a determining factor in how great of a friend, daughter, sister or person you are.

 If things get tough, remember you are not alone in your struggle. Remember that there are many people who want to be there for you. Remember that whatever happens during this day – does not determine what will happen tomorrow.

 Lastly, this is a holiday about being thankful; so let yourself be thankful for recovery.

Because, recovery has opened so many doors for you to live a happy and healthy life. Let yourself sit at the dining table with a sense of strength. Let yourself laugh with loved ones reminding you that food simply has the power to connect. Let the meal be a small part of a day that slows us down, brings us together and ignites wonderful conversation. Let yourself be thankful to the friends and family that have held us close during our journey of recovery.

 But most importantly, let yourself be thankful for YOU. YOU are the one who decided to get better. YOU are the one who chooses recovery every single day. YOU are the one who doesn’t give up despite how challenging things may get. YOU are a warrior and I hope you enjoy a slice of pie and freedom this year.

 With much love,

Emily

Trick or Treat? Surviving and Thriving in Your Recovery During the Holidays

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PumpkinPatch

Holidays and celebrations can pose some significant and specific challenge to those of us in treatment or recovery from an eating disorder. Let’s face it- nearly every holiday has some sort of a core basis around food. Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, and even the Fourth of July have traditional foods that are as integral to each day as the presents and the ceremonies. Halloween is no exception. In fact, the emphasis is on candy, which can be especially challenging.

 
Awareness and planning is vital to staying strong and focused in your recovery during any holiday. Planning ahead, practicing, and seeking out support can make the difference between an enjoyable day and a potential relapse. Hence it is absolutely vital to develop a very specific, detailed plan for managing any and all stressors that may occur throughout the day. This may involve pre-identifying triggers or triggering situations that may occur. Write them down, and then write down how you will ideally handle the situation in a recovery-focused manner. Also be sure to write down triggering thoughts that you may have- then be sure to write down challenging statements to those thoughts. The more specific you are in this journaling process, the more likely it is that you will be better prepared to defend against these irrational thoughts on the actual day.

 
Make sure to only say “yes’ to gatherings or events that you feel confident in attending. Also, if it helps, RSVP with a time limit. For example, say, “Thank for inviting me. I can make it from 4:00-8:00.” This will take some of the pressure off, because it provides firm boundaries, and an opportunity to leave if the anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Write down your favorite coping skills on a notecard (or in your cell phone) and make sure to keep them close by throughout the day. This way, you will have concrete examples to turn to should you become overwhelmed or upset. Also, write down three things that you used to enjoy about the holiday. You can use these to remind yourself of why you are trying, should you become upset or negative during the event.

 
Talk to your supports. Identify those people in your life that feel safe to turn to with struggles and let them know about your concerns. Brainstorm ways to make sure that the day goes well together. Tell them specific ways that they can support your during the event/gathering. These things are not always obvious to our loved ones, and chances are they are eager for information on how they can help in any way.

 
If you have a meal plan, make sure that you plan out how to attend the gathering/event and still make your meal plan work. Ask ahead of time about what type of food may be available. Make a commitment to yourself to follow through with your specific goals. Avoid getting into any type of “bargaining” with yourself about swapping out food. For example, during Halloween, this detrimental bargaining could manifest as “I will have some of that candy but maybe cut back on my dinner.” Chances are, if you make a commitment to hold yourself accountable ahead of time, you will be more likely to follow through.

 
Lastly, remember that the holidays are meant to be fun. Being in recovery does make them trickier to navigate, but this does not mean that they are unmanageable, or that they should not be attempted. There are many ways to make the holidays easier on yourself, so take advantage of them! And finally, remember that holidays, much like ourselves, are not meant to be perfect. People will spill drinks, burn cookies, and talk too close to your face. Family members will step on the dog’s tail, music will be played too loudly, and friends will show up late and early. Find a way to embrace the mess, in all of its perfect imperfection, and you will find yourself at peace. Because, after all, embracing imperfection is one of the most important pieces in the journey to recovery.