How I Get Through Holiday Meals in Eating Disorder Recovery
15 years ago, 10 years ago, 8 and even 7 years ago — I dreaded the day after Christmas.
The day after Christmas was a day where I would obsess over the previous day. It was a day where I shamed myself. It was a day where my eating disorder screamed at my actions.
I would drown in anger and self-hate. Mostly, I would I drown in the voice of my eating disorder. The self-hate was so overwhelming that I didn’t know what to do with it; I didn’t know how to control it and I didn’t know how to just accept it. It was more than just hard — it was cruel.
Today is different. Today I sit here with seven years of recovery behind me. And I realize that, for the first time, I don’t even have a passing thought of what the food will be like on Christmas! Of course, in the last six years, I haven’t been obsessing about the food on Christmas, but I’m sure I’ve thought about it — and I might have even dreaded the day after.
This year, though, I have forgotten all about the food that will be served on Christmas Day. I haven’t spent my weeks obsessing about what the foods will be, what people would say and what people would think.
But, here’s the thing, it hasn’t always been this way. It’s been a battle that I have fought and one that I have refused to give up on. I have stayed committed to my recovery; I have reached out. I have stayed truthful. I have tried my hardest to stay on track, and I haven’t ever given up.
The holiday struggle in eating disorder recovery
If you are facing an eating disorder, you probably understand why the holidays have been so challenging for me. These are just some of the things that I really struggled with during the holidays:
- I was terrified of the food and other people’s potential comments.
- I worried about how my meal plan was going to match up to the Christmas dinner.
- I wondered how people would look at my plate as I tried to portion and stick to my meal plan.
- I worried about being able to stick to my meal plan.
- I was ashamed of the food I had eaten and ashamed of the food that I was going to be eating.
The end result of a big holiday meal was this: I would be upset, angry at myself, and, mostly, so ashamed.
In early recovery, I felt embarrassed by comments about my body and even embarrassed by the new shape of my body. After embarrassment comes anger, then guilt, and those feelings are all covered under an umbrella of shame.
Well, people did look at my plate and people did make comments — but not because they were mean or spiteful. They did it because they had concern, love, joy, and pride for me. They had no idea that their comments would upset me, anger my eating disorder or stir the eating disorder up. I mean how could they — if I had never told them?
And, even if I had talked with some of my loved ones about how their comments made me feel, there is always someone who won’t know ahead of time, such as aunts, uncles or grandparents. They have no idea that they are saying something that could even be remotely upsetting.
More recently, in recovery, I have still gotten the comments. I have seen the looks.
But I have let go of any power or meaning that those comments and looks once carried.
When I was upset during my first Christmas in eating disorder recovery, I would email my team, journal, go outside and breathe, and sometimes cry. All of those were good coping mechanisms for me. Those coping mechanisms kept me honest, helped me let go (just a little), and helped me fight back.
Maintaining recovery at holiday meals
Now, I can receive a comment and either be pleased with what has been said or I might despise every word that was said. But, I have a number of coping skills that help me deal with anything that comes my way:
- I’m able to let go. I say to myself “I really don’t care.” And if, for some reason, I actually do care, I let myself be truthful and honest in my recovery.
- I email my dietician or therapist.
- I reach out to a friend.
What I have found helpful is to remember this: I am never alone in this journey of recovery. I am not the only one who fears holiday meals. I am not the only one who receives upsetting comments, and I am not the only one fighting to stay in recovery.
The best thing a dietician ever said to me
Matching my meal plan to a celebratory holiday dinner was challenging. Before I knew I would be with my family and friends, I made sure to meet with my dietician several times to go over my meal plan. I let my dietician know my insecurities and my fears as I sought reassurance.
I once had a dietician named Dalit who told me this:
“Do the best you can with what you know. You know your meal plan. Go to the table with the intention of sticking to your recovery and if you make that intention you will be okay. It is okay for you to go over your meal plan, Savannah, do you hear me? It is okay to go over your meal plan. Remember that and don’t forget that.”
That was the most reassuring advice.
After she shared these words with me, when the holiday mealtime came, I did make the intention to try. I promised myself that I would be okay and that if I didn’t feel okay I would email my team, and perhaps reach out to a friend who understood or could just listen.
For the last seven years I have shown up to the table with my intention and with my promise to myself.
A note to those in recovery during the holidays
As the holidays approach, I know the next weeks or days may be hard and challenging, but I can promise you one thing. I can promise you that one day those feelings, those thoughts, and that voice will NOT be there anymore. I can’t tell you when it will happen or how long it will take but I can promise that it will happen.
I’m so sorry to all of you who are struggling; I have been there. More than anything, I just want to hug each of you so tight and promise you face to face it’s going to be okay. I know it may not feel okay right now, but I promise it will be. I promise it gets better. I promise one day you will be free.
Learn more about eating disorder treatment.
My name is Savannah and I am a part of the Recovery Ambassador Council at Eating Recovery Center. I am a little over seven years recovered and the path I have taken to get here has been hard but worth it. I write about my recovery because I want others to know that they are not alone and that it does get better.