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Eating Disorder Support Toolkit - Holiday Edition

By Lindsey Hall

As I’m writing this, I’m on an American Airlines flight back to Colorado from my hometown in Texas. Masked up, an empty middle seat beside me, I’m experiencing a familiar 2020 emotion of being on edge. Only today it’s coupled with a lingering feeling of shame that I shouldn’t have traveled in the first place. 

Was it worth putting my family at risk this weekend? I went home because my grandmother was back in the hospital. I wanted to be there for both her and my mom. Yet I couldn’t even see my grandmother while I was there because it would further elevate her risk. I knew that, and I went anyway. In the past, I went home at the drop of a dime when anything happened in my family. It felt like the right thing to do. In retrospect, I’m almost sure that in 2020 it wasn’t.

I suppose that’s part of the new normal: rethinking choices that used to come so naturally. An incessant, consistent argument of whether to "live" or "live conditionally" because we must band together and make sacrifices in this pandemic. And that is the right thing to do. Though it’s much easier to write that than do it as I’m now seeing. As the pandemic escalates again, I will have to continue to make choices that feel unnatural for the rest of this year into 2021, much as I did back in 2014 when I was in recovery and had  to constantly choose to eat meals and snacks when it did not feel natural.

I remind myself to use that strength as we head into the final months of 2020 and into 2021.

For many of us, holidays will be different this year, not only due to the pandemic but because of this election and the issues that have risen to the surface of consciousness over the past year.  some of us will travel by car, while others brave a flight to see family they haven’t seen in a year. Others are canceling Thanksgiving and holidays altogether; not just because of the pandemic, but because family members are at odds with political strife.

While in Texas, my own partner texted me: “Thanksgiving is a no-go this year. Can’t risk it with my grandmother, and my family agreed we’ll celebrate separately.”

Frankly, it was a relief. I was terrified to go to Missouri and try to navigate the 6-foot barrier with his grandmother and older relatives. However, even with the relief, there’s still a sense of grief that this year continues to pass us by with sacrifice. And I think it serves us all better to acknowledge that grief and allow it to be part of our collective consciousness this year, instead of fighting the good fight and turning to what can feel like toxic positivity. In acknowledging the grief of this year, we will one day be able to clearly see the joy again as well, as both live in tandem with the other.

So whether you choose to travel this year or plan to stick close to home, there are encounters and preparations to be made. We can navigate through them together, with the knowledge that we have a whole, big community of us in recovery that can lean onto one another for support. Here are a few of our tips:

Pack food, or be prepared to spend more.

Many of us have an interesting relationship with food and finances. Don’t ask me to dive deep into the psychology behind it, but it does exist. So pack your food if you don’t want to spend a pretty penny at the airport, where a KIND bar costs like $4. That way, you can’t manipulate yourself into conveniently skipping meals or snacks because you don’t want to spend the funds.

The person you are traveling with might eat more or less, and at different times.

The way someone else eats is not reflective of your hunger or your needs. They are a different person with different hunger cues. You don’t know what their eating schedule was that week or that morning or how they usually eat. Try to keep your eyes focused on your own plate.

You may sit in a ridiculously sized airline seat.

This is a  reminder that the seatbelt will be from the previous passenger; please do not read into this. The person sitting there before you could have been a child or someone could have pulled at it before exiting.

The menu board will show calorie count.

This is another reason to pack your own food if you’re headed on a car trip or flight! And if not, you can look up restaurants before you get to the airport or along the way of your car trip. Another idea that I’ve done with my partner is have him choose for me and practice going with the food flow.

Have someone you trust plate your food for you if it’s difficult.

For years, I’ve had my mom plate my food for me when we have big family celebrations with buffet-style food. It was naturally difficult to trust the first couple of times, but now that I’m used to it I find it much more relieving. I tell her what I want and she plates it. Problem solved.

It is OKAY to take time for yourself.

I run into this issue within my own family. There’s this psychological feeling of needing to all be together every second of every day that we have while we visit. However, what I’ve noticed is that when I spend too much time around people and take no time for myself, I grow irritable and cranky, and it’s harder to stay in the moment. You are not being impolite for wanting a couple hours to yourself. Go out in nature. Zone out to a movie. Read a book. It’s appropriate, even if your family doesn’t naturally do it on their own.

Rethink booze.

I used to get hammered at family functions. It was under the guise of ‘celebration’ and this societal norm that “that’s what you do with family,” but it’s a total waste of presence and connection. And it doesn’t help with food choices. You lose hunger cues when you drink. You lose the ability to connect with your own body. Rethink the glass of wine. Is it worth the hangover anyway? This applies to celebrating the holidays alone, too. Loneliness can amplify the desire to drink, yet it’s proven that drinking only intensifies the negative emotions.

Create time for mindfulness.

Get your yoga practice in, or write in your gratitude journal. Complete a meditation. It is critical in times where your schedule is different or you’re in a different place or home to bring some of what grounds you to the situation. The same applies to if you’re doing this solo this year.

Set boundaries with desserts.

If you have struggled with binge eating in the past, this is likely a hard time of year. I still feel the tick to binge eat at times while at my parents. I think there is a memory function in my brain that feels a pull toward it because it’s what I did for years in the past. What I’ve found is that openly talking about it with those I trust helps. I’ve asked my mom to put away desserts when we’re done, and when I’m feeling uncomfortable, I’ve asked if we can not keep so many treats in the house. Communication has been crucial in this area, though I know it’s difficult.

Find support online.

There is community online that is safe and can help us all to feel a little bit more normal in an otherwise abnormal time. Community support can always be found within our Say It Brave community, our Binge Eating Connection page on Facebook, and other additional resources that include:

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Written by

Lindsey Hall

Lindsey Hall is an award-winning eating disorder recovery speaker and writer, focusing on what she refers to as "the nitty gritty topics not discussed." Having struggled with the eating disorder cycle for many years, Lindsey has actively been in her coined "flexible recovery" since 2014, and is the author behind "I Haven't Shaved in Six Weeks," a blog written to humanize the stigmas of eating disorders and treatment.

Through her published writing, she has had the privilege of speaking around the world on nuanced topics such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Drunkorexia, Exercise Addiction, Orthorexia and other eating disorder behaviors, and has been featured in publications including TODAY Show, CBS, Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, SheKnows, NEDA, SHAPE Magazine, Refinery29, and more.

Her future plans in recovery advocacy are currently focused on owning and converting a van to take it on the road so she can report on treatment centers and eating disorder resources around the country in a dream she's envisioned as "Recovery on the Road."

Follow Lindsey Hall on Instagram.

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