The holidays can be challenging for everyone, but for a woman with an eating disorder it can be terrifying and traumatizing. I spent years upon years dreading this time of year where overindulgence, consumption, and obligatory times of connecting to others reign.
I tried every tactic to try and survive these times – I starved myself for days leading up leaving me crabby and miserable (and a HUGE set up for a binge), I worked out for hours in excess, I placed unattainable and unrealistic rules and regulations on myself about what I was allowed to eat, how much and when this food was acceptable to be eaten.
It was all a setup to feel horrible about myself and perpetuated a cycle of self-loathing and destruction that fed off each other. Each step on the path and each choice that I made affirmed my already skewed perspective of myself and affirmed my embedded belief system telling me that I was fat, unworthy, and absolutely incapable of eating “properly” and that I was simply doomed to fail.
Although I am embodied in my recovery, solid in who I am, and, for the most part, at peace with my body’s shape, size, and appearance, this time of year still brings it up for me. Cellular memory is a very real experience of how we process and digest life and there is no doubt that it is at play for me this time of year. The rat race of frenetic energy, the pressure for organizing the perfection of meals with family and friends, the knowing that there is overconsumption on the plate….it brings it up. I find myself not breathing deeply, eating disembodied (i.e. fast and furious). Somewhere in me I have associated this time of year (my birthday leading into the holidays) as a time of disconnect, over indulgence, the constancy of the ED (eating disorder) voice berating me, preaching to me and insisting obsessively that I move — move my body constantly.
So, how do we THRIVE instead of just SURVIVE the holidays?
Over the years I have healed my own patterning around my relationship with myself, my body, and the expectations of this time of year. I offer some simple tactics in support of not just surviving this time of year, but to actually thrive — letting go of the dread and anxiety and moving into a place of honor, presence, and celebration.
- BREATHE: Sounds simple enough yet as a woman in recovery I can speak that it is far from that. I noticed years ago that I was holding my breath — my breathing became shallow and only occupied my body from the upper shoulders (creating a massive amount of tension) and up (creating heightened anxiety, insomnia, and feeding my heady overwhelm). I had 0 connection to my belly and my source of nourishment and digestion. The underlying message here is that if I don’t breathe fully into my belly — into my being — then I am not fully alive and present for this experience. Understandably so as meals (especially over the holidays) were excruciatingly uncomfortable for me and I did not feel safe enough to really be there. The importance of stopping and breathing often throughout the days and especially before, during, and after mealtimes, cannot be emphasized enough. It is the ultimate gesture and act of self-love, self-acceptance, and is the true gateway to healing. PRACTICE: Breathing properly takes practice, especially if we have been shallow breathing throughout our lives. The first thing to do is simply become aware of your breathing patterns — Are you breathing deeply into your belly? Are you breathing in just your upper body? Are you breathing while you are eating or are you holding your breath? There is no judgement here, we are simply becoming aware of our patterns so that we can consciously choose to shift them. Find a room where you can be alone. I would suggest doing this several times a day during the holiday time — use it as a reset for your entire system. Go into your quiet space and lay down on the ground. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Place one hand on your belly and one had on your heart. Feel the rise and fall of your hands as you deeply breathe into your belly and your chest — belly and chest — belly and chest. Feeling the entirely of your breath and connect with your body. Do this for about 15 minutes several times a day.
- GIVE PERMISSION: I had so many self-inflicted restrictions for years and years that had the flavor of: how much I was allowed to eat, what was permissible to eat, when I was allowed to eat, how much exercise I had to do in order to compensate for what I ate and how much I ate, and on an on an on. I can remember a turning point years ago in which I let go of my extensive rules and regulations and gave myself permission. I was recently reading the brilliant new book by Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness, and she talks about how, at one point in her life, she started writing herself permission slips and it shifted everything for her. I can reflect that, I too, began writing myself permission slips and things shifted. I let go of the self-berating ways of relating to myself, I released the shame that I was carrying, and a huge part of me relaxed into my human beingness. It put things into perspective, allowed me to experience more pleasure and joy with my food intake and extended myself the invitation to really pull up a chair at the table and show up. EXERCISE: Take note of the rules and regulations that you have created for yourself around your eating and exercise. Again, we are just noticing, not using this time to further berate or judge ourselves. Choose one of those rules and literally write yourself a permission slip to do something different. For example, if you have a rule that you cannot eat more than one helping of food at Thanksgiving yet your being is crying out for a little more of that delicious stuffing, give yourself permission to do so. By giving ourselves permission to do things that have once been forbidden or fuel for self-punishment, we release the punitive energy and our being can relax and digest. Do this in small steps so as to not overwhelm and shock your system, however do honor these permission slips and take the leap of trust in yourself to do so.
- CHANGE YOUR SELF-TALK: We are our worst critics, our most fierce enemy. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect others to do so? No one is going to do this work for us. We can certainly get help and support in shifting our relationship to ourselves and our bodies but, when it comes down to it, we have to make new, life-enhancing choices. Changing how we talk to ourselves is empowering, life-changing, and essential to our success at recovery and in taking steps towards thriving, not simply surviving. The invitation here is to interrupt that negative self-talk and replace it with some whole-hearted self-love. EXERCISE: Notice the stream of thoughts that you are thinking about yourself. Become aware of how you speak to yourself — quietly and perhaps even aloud. We are becoming aware and absolutely not beating ourselves up. This particular one can be a shock for some women — how harsh they are with themselves. When I first started noticing how I was talking to myself I definitely had some grief surface. A part of my heart cracked open for myself. This exercise and awareness can be a powerful gateway towards ourselves and our healing. As you notice the more negative thoughts arise, consciously choose to replace them with a more positive and empowering statement or mantra. My current “go to” mantras are: I love myself. I love my body. I love my life. For me, these 3 statements cover it all and override anything I may be telling myself otherwise. I use these mantras in meditation, throughout my days, and as a perfect interruption to a stream of thought that is not in my highest good.
- TAP INTO PERSPECTIVE: I am not making light of the magnitude of these patterns of being. I spent decades truly believing that I was going to die if I ate too much — that getting fat was absolutely the worst possible thing that could happen to me — and that I needed to work out constantly in order to be okay. These were very real feelings and beliefs for me. The invitation here is to search for perspective. EXERCISE: Noticing when you have convinced yourself that eating that pie is going to make you gain 10 pounds, that you are going to get fat and/or die if you don’t get that run in, and that the world around you will not go on unless you are “perfect” during this time. Again, we are noticing, not judging or beating ourselves up. Awareness of these false beliefs and replacing them with a more grounded belief system — i.e. you are NOT going to die if you eat that pie, your body will calibrate itself throughout this time as long as you are gentle and compassionate with yourself, etc. Bottom line, we have to truly recognize and accept the fact that: It is absolutely not the end of the world if we indulge, aren’t up to par on our exercise program, and actually relax into this time of year. It all evens out and cultivating a sense of perspective is so important to recognizing the reality of the situation.
- FAKE IT TIL YOU BECOME IT: In treatment I took on the phrase “Fake it til you make it”. I carried that with me for years — I just wanted to MAKE IT — whatever that actually meant. To me, that was an end goal yet I didn’t even really get what making it was, so herein lies the dilemma. I was seeking to attain some state of being yet I didn’t even know what that was. Years ago, I heard a TED talk in which the woman stated “Fake it til you become it”. That phrase landed for me. I knew that I wanted to become healthy, embodied, and grounded in who I was. This phrase gave me hope, drive, inspiration, and a palpable goal. I could hook into this one and the repetition of saying it to myself kept me going through challenging moments. EXERCISE: I suggest doing this exercise sitting in a meditative posture. Take a moment, close your eyes, and find your breath. Feel the expansion of your belly, the rooting down of your hips and sits bones, the rising up of your spine, the lightness and softness of your heart, the reach of the crown of your head up towards the sky. Feel the entirety of your being and the presence of this moment. As you find your ground and embodied awareness of yourself, tune into the phrase: Fake it til you become it. How does that feel to you to say it? What comes up for you? What is your interpretation of it? Do you know what “becoming it” means to you personally? Please do not condemn yourself if you are unable to access this place. Here lies another opportunity and a different angle towards connecting us to our dreams, hopes, inspirations, and our deepest longings. If you are able to, perhaps envision yourself at optimal health and balance, feel what that feels like. It is said that when we are able to tap into how something feels it is a powerful step toward actualizing. Abraham Hicks talks about moving towards feeling good and then our lives naturally unfold in that way. Sometimes you cannot even imagine feeling good you feel so lousy. Perhaps in these moments, “faking it” can become a valuable tool to shifting towards a feel good place. Finding little things to focus on that do actually feel good and, as Abraham Hicks says, “milk them”. Soak up that good moment in any way that you can for as long as you can and “fake it til you become it”.
Do you feel anxious or nervous about the upcoming holidays? Are you already planning your “survival” tactics? Are you preparing yourself by starving yourself and overexercising? Are you stuck in an internal, self-defeating dialogue — desperate for some relief? Are you longing to feel relaxed and happy during the holidays despite how much you eat and how much exercise you are able to get? Do you feel alone in your struggles with yourself?
I can help you. I am a survivor of decades of debilitating and all-consuming eating and exercise patterns. I get it.
I am here to help, to support, to advocate for you to find that peace within yourself, with your behaviors, and to tap into that stream of self-love that is right there awaiting you. My approach is real, raw, authentic, and does not involve deprivation. It involves tactics from the front lines — things that have worked for me — holistic, yes, rigid, nope.
I would love to talk with you, meet you, and support you. I honor you and the path you have courageously walked.