If you know Ed,* you know that his chatter can get louder around the holidays.
Remember: he may get noisier but that doesn’t mean that you have to waver in your recovery. You have a choice and you can choose recovery in each and every moment. And, in the end, it doesn’t matter what Ed says or does. What matters is how you respond to him.
If you’re looking for tips on how to respond to Ed this holiday season, here are some positive, pro-recovery options.
- Choose a go-to support person. For each holiday celebration, select a designated person for support and accountability. Choose someone who is willing, available, and, if possible, actually attending the event. Teach this person the do’s and don’ts of support and discuss possible “things-that-might-happen” scenarios. Explain what kind of response would be most helpful to you in each situation.
- Carry support with you at all times. Program the contact information of key support people into your phone. Set them up as easy-to-access favorites. In moments of distress, make a call. For extra long events, be sure to bring your cell phone charger! The Tenth Anniversary Edition of Life Without Ed suggests, “If picking up the phone to make a support call is sometimes too difficult for you, maybe you can at least send a short text—like ‘SOS’ or even ‘Ed.’ Tell your support team ahead of time what your distress signal text might say, and let them know helpful ways to respond.”
- Take time to stop and breathe. Practice mindfulness by paying attention to all five senses: see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the joys of the season. Meditate — even for just a few minutes — before attending holiday gatherings. Say a prayer.
- Face the food. Ed will try to make food a big deal; don’t let him. The truth is that holiday food is often the same year after year, so you can easily plan ahead by consulting with your dietitian or a trusted support person. If you don’t know what is going to be served, consider asking beforehand. At the meal, you might even ask a support person to prepare a plate for you. For extra accountability, text a photo of your plate — before and after eating — to someone on your support team. Ask your friends and family not to comment about what you are eating.
- Plan something special beyond the food. For many people, including those without eating disorders, food can become the focus of holiday gatherings. While it is normal and healthy to enjoy the festive meals, it can also be important to plan something to look forward to that doesn’t include turkey or stuffing. Add fun to your schedule. Play a board game, watch a movie, or go on a walk.
- Increase support and self-care. The busy-ness of the holidays might lead you to want to cancel some therapy sessions. But the added pressure actually means that you need to beef up your support. Add more time for support and self-care; don’t take it away. Get creative. Adding support doesn’t necessarily mean a big time commitment. For instance, you can listen to recovery podcasts when driving to and from holiday events. Use apps like Recovery Record to send yourself positive affirmations during holiday gatherings.
- Address body image openly. When I was in early recovery from my eating disorder, I asked my friends and family not to make comments about my appearance. I clarified, “Please don’t even say that I look ‘great’ or ‘healthy.’” Ask loved ones to keep the conversation on topics beyond eating, shape, and weight.
- Celebrate small victories. If you conquer a food fear at a holiday gathering, share the news with your support team. To some friends and family, eating a slice of apple pie might not seem like a big deal. But, to you, it surely can be a sign of courage. Celebrate with people who understand.
- Create an Emergency 911 Card. As described in Life Without Ed, create a list of time-tested relapse prevention tips. Keep this list with you at all times. Consider typing your emergency 911 card into your smart phone as a note. Ed thrives on forgetfulness. Be one step ahead of him.
- Remember why the holidays have meaning. Despite what Ed may say, the holidays were not created to cause distress. What does each holiday truly mean to you? Consider taking time to explore this in a journal. Focus on what is good about the holidays. Practice gratitude. Laugh.
Never, never, never give up on yourself. If you fall down this holiday season, pick yourself back up right away. Most importantly, hold onto the hope for a full recovery. In the years to come, imagine a holiday without Ed even making a peep. Have faith that, yes, it can be that good.
Ed is an acronym for “eating disorder.”
Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and popular speaker on eating disorders and related disorders, including PTSD.