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Eating Disorders and the Holidays

As I’m sure you are aware the holidays are in full swing. Many people assume that everyone loves the holidays. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…right? For some it is, for others it may be the most difficult time of the year. For people with eating disorders, the holidays can seem like a downright scary movie. People with eating disorders are often scared of food, terrified of groups of people, and frightened of heightened emotions. The holidays are filled with all three of these! If you are struggling with an eating disorder, then this is likely the most dreaded time of the year.

When I was recovering from my eating disorder I felt lost during the holidays. I was scared of all the food and felt like I had to pretend to be “okay” all the time. Inside I felt so much anxiety and depression. I wish I would have had someone tell me “it’s okay, this is a hard time for a lot of people”. The following are some tips that will help you get through this difficult time of the year.

Recognize that this is a short time period

While the holidays are going on it feels like it lasts forever. But it is actually only a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is only 8% of the year! Try to remember that when you feel like this time is dragging and it is never going to end. It will end, and you will get through it.

Set your boundaries

You do not have to attend every holiday party and gathering you are invited to. You are allowed to say “thanks, but no thanks”. This is a great time to practice setting your boundaries. And if not attending means saving your well-being, then it’s worth it. I always ask my clients: does the discomfort and guilt of saying no outweigh how bad you feel saying yes and going to the party? If the answer is no, then you should not go!

Thoughtfully eat your fear foods 

It is hard with so many different foods around and everyone and their mother (and aunt, uncle, grandma, cousin, brother) trying to convince you to try their homemade peanut brittle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new and different foods, but if you don’t feel ready to, then don’t. Sometimes when we push ourselves with fear foods, we feel much more anxiety,  and coupled with the anxiety of being surrounded by family, can lead to a complete relapse.

Stick to regular meal times

Do not save up and skip meals in anticipation of a big holiday dinner or party. Restricting will only make you overly hungry which can cause you to binge later. Keep a regular and moderate meal pattern.

Have an exit plan

If you know you will be attending a holiday gathering with friends or family that will be difficult and triggering for you, have an exit strategy. Plan some ways to excuse yourself if things get too tough. Always put your own health above anything else.

Plan something relaxing amidst the chaos

A yoga class, massage, or a walk with a good friend can be a great way to feel back to your “normal” self after being in uncomfortable situations. It is very important to set some time aside to take care of yourself.

Use your treatment team

Talk to your treatment team to help identify what situations may be more difficult, and come up with strategies for dealing with them.

Remember what the holidays are about

The holidays are supposed to be a time for family and friends to reconnect, and to take some time off work and school. Try to focus on this aspect and remember that the holidays do not have to be all about food. Yes, food is a part of it, but it is just one aspect. There can be a lot of good that comes out of slowing down and reconnecting with the people we really care about.

If you are struggling with navigating the holidays with an eating disorder, know that you are not alone. I wish you a joyful and meaningful holiday season from the office of Melissa Preston Counseling!

 

 

 

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Relationship with Food

Our relationship with food in this country is not good. We have become so detached from our bodies that we eat based on the clock, while driving and texting, or what the latest fad diet tells us to do. Try these 5 simple things to help improve your relationship with food today!

#1. Notice Your Body

Most of us go through life and are completely unaware how we feel in our bodies. When I ask my clients the question “what does it feel like to be hungry?” many of them have no idea. This isn’t their fault. We have been trained as a society to ignore our hunger and not trust our bodies. But if we truly listen to our bodies they will give us the information we need to stay attuned to our hunger and fullness.

#2. Slow Down: Before, During, and After the Meal.

Most of us eat so quickly that we don’t taste our food and we definitely don’t enjoy our food. Food is meant to be enjoyed. It is a sensory experience involving all of our senses. Look at the presentation of the food, Smell the aroma, taste the different flavors, listen to the crunch between your teeth. It awakens your body

#3. Stop Judging Your Food

We often make judgments about food being either good or bad, which we then internalize to ourselves as if we are good or bad based on what we eat. Food is neither good nor bad. All foods can be included in a healthy diet. If you want a piece of cake, eat the cake. Do it slowly and with intention and purpose. Don’t eat in hiding because you feel ashamed for eating it. Feeling ashamed for eating something will only further destruct your relationship with food.

#4. Focus on Health First

Most of the media’s obsession with the latest fad diet has little to do with health and focuses on a person’s weight. Whatever happened to the idea of being HEALTHY? It seems that all people care about is being thin no matter if it’s healthy or not. When we think about promoting health within us it conjures up positive feelings and actions such as reaching for fruit or another healthy snack. When we think of being thin it brings up negative feelings of deprivation that will actually lead to eat that chocolate cake or bag of chips since you’re worried you might be deprived soon.  

#5. Stop Comparing

Your nutritional needs are completely different than your friend, husband, sister, co-worker, and next-door-neighbor. Don’t base what you eat on what they eat. Our nutritional needs depend on our height, weight, activity level, age, gender, metabolism, muscle to fat ratio, and a million other physiological processes that go on in our bodies every day.

How many times have you eaten the same size meal as your husband who weighs twice as much as you? Or ordered that dessert after dinner because your friend did? Or avoided getting that pastry at Starbucks because your friend didn’t get one even though you really wanted it?  If they want to eat something, or not eat something, good for them! But it doesn’t mean you have to follow along their lead. You can avoid this by doing #1 above. Do you want a dessert? Are you hungry? Are you full? What is your body telling you? If you follow #2 above then you will be able to answer these questions.

What do you think? Do you already do some of the things on this list? What can you try doing today that would improve your relationship with food? Let me know in the comments!

How to Get a Bikini Body!

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Step 1. Get a bikini

Step 2. Put bikini on your body

Summer is almost here which means it’s time for magazines, weight loss programs, and commercials to ramp up their bikini weight loss propaganda. As I was at the checkout counter this past weekend I saw no less than 8 titles of articles in magazines promoting different diet and weight loss plans “just in time for summer!”.

When did it become mandatory that one has a “perfect” body in order to step outside wearing a bikini? And while we’re on the subject, what exactly is a “perfect” body anyway? The media will tell you it is a woman that has no hips, large breasts, and a perfectly golden tan. It is estimated that less than 1% of the population is able to naturally and healthily achieve this “perfect” body.

How do we let go of the media’s view of what a perfect body should be and enjoy a day at the pool in our bikini’s?  We need to realize that are cognitive distortions are just that- distortions and recognize that we don’t need to believe and have them limit our outside bikini time.

Comparing

One of the most common distortions I hear in my office is ‘everyone else has a perfect body and I don’t’. First of all, this just isn’t true. If you actually went to a pool or beach and looked around, you would see all kinds of different bodies. Short, tall, fat, thin, hairy, bald. People come in all shapes and sizes; we just have to actually open our eyes to see it.

When you compare yourself to the models in magazines and TV commercials then all you will see are perfectly chiseled, hairless bodies. But this comparison is not fair to make. These people spend their lives trying to achieve that body, and then the images are airbrushed. Essentially, you are comparing yourself to a fake image! That person in the magazine doesn’t even look like that image.

The other way people compare themselves is by picking out the people in real life that you encounter that you judge yourself against. If you do encounter someone with that ‘perfect’ body at the pool, your mind will automatically compare yourself to this person and how you don’t measure up. It’s like your mind is looking to lose in the comparison game! Why did you pick that person to compare yourself to rather than someone else whose body you don’t admire as much? We always lose in the comparison game!

Focusing On One Body Part

Another way we bring ourselves down is by focusing on the one body part that we dislike the most and then overemphasizing it to make it mean more than it really does. For example, if we hate our butt and think it’s too big we may say something like “my butt is too big to even fit into a bikini, there’s no way I can go outside my butt won’t even fit into the pool!”

Perhaps, if we were to stop and look at other characteristics of our body such as our slender arms, or pretty eyes, we would see that our butt is not the only thing that makes up our body. But we unfairly put a magnifying glass to one body part and exaggerate it to make it be bigger literally and figuratively than it really is in our life.

Projecting Our Beliefs

Often our minds lead us to believe that “if I think I look bad then everyone else does too”. This is called projecting our own beliefs into the minds of others. If you were to actually walk out onto the pool deck in a bikini, what do think would happen? Would people come running and scream at you about how terrible you look? No! The fact is, probably no one would even notice you. And if they did actually notice you, trust me, you are thinking much worse things about your body then they ever would. The fact is, most people are so obsessed with their own thoughts that they don’t have time or care to think about how others look. Just because we evaluate ourselves a certain way, does not mean that others do as well.

I encourage you to recognize your cognitive distortions and how they limit your life. Is it possible for you to live the life you want, which includes wearing a bikini at the pool, while still having your cognitive distortion thoughts?

Simply recognizing your cognitive distortions will not be enough to make them go away. But if you engage in the very behavior that those thoughts are telling you to avoid, ie wearing a bikini to the pool, you are choosing to live your life alongside your painful thoughts, instead of allowing your thoughts to dictate your behavior.