Every minute someone dies of a direct result from an eating disorder
Having an eating disorder is hard enough so when the holidays come around it can become pretty intense. The thoughts of your disorder such as binging, purging, and restricting don’t take break during the holiday season, no matter how hard we want it too. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy holiday. An eating disorder brain never stops running but we can learn to cope with the thoughts and enjoy the holiday season, it’s just a bit of extra work. In this blog post I will be discussing the steps to a ~happy~ holiday with an eating disorder.
The first thing you need to recognize what stage you are in the recovery path. If you’re in precontemplation, you likely won’t even realize that you have a problem, therefore, trying to cope with it is virtually non-existent. On the opposite side during maintenance you might think you don’t need to cope because you are in remission, but remember that no matter how long you’ve been in recovery…you need to continue to cope.
Stages of Recovery
Precontemplation: The stage where you are either in denial of any issue or you don’t understand that there is one. It is essential in this stage to act delicately and educate a loved one struggling with eating disorder behaviour.
Contemplation: When a person is willing to admit they have a problem and are willing to seek help for the issue.
Preparation: This is when a person is ready for change but don’t know how. This stage is important to educate yourself on eating disorders and create a treatment plan.
Action: When a person is willing to confront their eating disorder head-on. This stage can last for quite some time and it’s important to never quit, because you are strong enough to get through it.
Maintenance: Maintenance is when you no longer actively have to treat your disorder and haven’t had to for 6 months or longer. This stage doesn’t necessarily mean you are cured but that you are maintaining treatment.
Now, depending on which stage you are in depends on the type of treatment needed. For example, someone in the contemplation stage probably needs some observation from close family members or friends because it’s too early on in the process to do it alone. For example, someone in preparation stage should stay at the table after they have eaten a full meals servings (go by Canada’s food guide, not by holiday standards or by made up dimensions) for twenty minutes. They shouldn’t be allowed to go to the bathroom, outside, or anywhere alone. Playing a board game or cards is something distracting to do with this person after the meal that both takes their mind off the meal and takes up that twenty minutes of time.
A lot of the time people with eating disorders worry about having to live this way for the rest of their lives but it’s important to remember that each stage you advance to more independence and less active thinking in regards to treating your disorder.
Precontemplation is tricky to treat because the person suffering doesn’t know or understand that there is a problem. It’s important to be gentle during this stage, try to softly educate rather than convince the person of the problem. During the holidays it’s important not to bring up the problem during meals but to agree to terms regarding meals BEFOREhand. For example, a person will eat at least the cooked vegetables at dinner.
Action is the biggest stage and can also be the longest. The #1 rule in the action stage is: eating is not optional. No matter how full you are, how much you don’t want to eat, or even if you don’t like the food on your plate (in which you should plan ahead so you know you will like it) you must eat it. This is a very hard stage because forcing yourself to eat is one of the biggest fears of an eating disorder. I get the no-matter-what technique from my year-long inpatient stay at Toronto General Hospital (TGH). If you are in the action stage than you have come to terms and want to help control your eating disorder. We were allowed 2 points in the entire year which meant we didn’t have to eat 2 meals, every other meal had to be consumed and if they weren’t you were discharged. This can seem harsh but it really helps keep people in the action stage because you want to get better and you can’t get better if you’re not eating. Do the action, eat according to your meal plan (which again should be created beforehand).
Contemplation is probably the biggest stage for someone to get support from family members and friends because it can be devastating to learn of a disorder that affects such a huge part of your life. It’s even harder to realize that the disorder is a manifestation of mental health struggles that you will soon have to face. Be with your family, plan meals in advance, and take it slow this holiday season.
“The first thing you need to recognize what stage you are in the recovery path…”
Preparation as I said before is tricky because it’s hard to treat something if you don’t understand how. It’s important to remember during the holidays in this stage that you shouldn’t spend all your time researching eating disorder treatment. Don’t become obsessed with curing your obsession. Take it slow and gather supports. Come up with a meal plan BEFOREhand and stick to it. After the holidays try and find a treatment program through professional help if you are struggling.
As I said before a lot of the time the maintenance stage can seem like you don’t need to do anything, but in every stage you should be actively coping. It’s easy to fall into binging habits during the holidays so it’s important to regulate your eating. You don’t necessarily have to plan your meals in advance here, but try to have a sense of what you’ll be eating and recognize when you begin indulging rather than treating.
Depending on your stage depends on how you will need to treat your disorder this year. Preparation is a difficult stage during the holidays because you are unaware of how to treat your disorder which often ends up with “treating yourself.” This is really dangerous for people with eating disorders because it opens the path for binging and purging (*these don’t necessarily have to be together *purging can include excessive exercise, laxatives, vomiting, etc.*), which is also an eating disorder behavior. The key to maintaining your treatment throughout the holidays is to regulate your eating and have a plan beforehand. I have attached a link for a FREE sample of a meal plan to this blog post; simply put your email address in and you will receive an email with the meal plan attached.