As the Fourth of July approaches, many of us Americans are excited for fireworks, family get-togethers, delicious BBQ, and cold beer or lemonade! If you’re one of the millions of individuals who struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, however, these holiday festivities may be causing more anxiety than excitement.
As a teenager, I loved the 4th of July. Spending the day on the beach with friends playing volleyball and enjoying a hot dog or hamburger straight off the grill was the best!! Once my eating disorder started however, I could no longer recall these happy memories. I wanted to be normal and enjoy time with my family and friends but my thoughts were only fixated on the food I would be exposed to, and the anxiety of wearing a bathing suit all day.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, I empathize with you. It’s never easy when our logical thoughts disagree with our emotions and the exhausting and relentless voice of “E.D.” Like many others who have overcome this illness, I’ve come to realize that a bit of planning can go a long way toward reducing holiday anxiety, allowing for a mellow-ish, enjoyable day!
How to Plan Ahead for a Holiday
Have a Back-up Plan
As beneficial as it would be to challenge yourself and face a fear food at a holiday event, sometimes it’s just not the right time! If certain foods trigger anxiety or eating disorder behaviors, there’s no need to eat them at a get-together. However this doesn’t mean it’s ok to restrict either, you need to have a plan B. Come prepared with a dish or two you can eat comfortably, for yourself and to share with others. If you’re at an all day event, keep snacks you can easily eat in your purse or pocket.
Don’t go at it alone
Hopefully there is someone in your life who knows about your struggle with food. Whether that is a trusted friend or family member, bring them with you to a holiday event. Ask your confidant to help hold you accountable, and also agree to leave with you if you’re feeling too stressed or uncomfortable.
Once you decide to attend an event, planning can help tremendously. Rather than planning to restrict and “save up” for later, stick to your meal plan before & during the event. Avoid alcohol to keep your appetite, energy and emotions in check. Having a game plan can help prevent both skipping meals and overeating, both of which can exacerbate stress and lead to unhealthy behaviors.
I know. Telling someone with an eating disorder to avoid thinking about food is like telling a French person to start thinking and dreaming in Spanish. As crazy as it sounds, it is possible. Try to stay engaged in conversations or play some beach or lawn games. Ask others about their work lives, summer vacations or hobbies. Talk about sports, music, the weather.. anything you find interesting that has nothing to do with physical appearance or food.
Surround Yourself with the Right People
I hear this from my patients all the time! They have certain family members or friends who, perhaps well intentioned, always comment about their weight and how much they were or weren’t eating. I understand the feeling of obligation to these people, but if they truly love you, they will understand, or at least accept your need for distance if they aren’t willing to watch their words. If topics arise that trigger you or make you feel uncomfortable, just walk away. If you need to make up an excuse (such as “I need to make a phone call”, or “I have to go to the bathroom”) that’s fine! Make your wellbeing a top priority.
Wear Something Comfortable
Summertime outfits (bathing suits, short shorts, tank tops etc.) can be a major source of anxiety for people with eating disorders—but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to wear what everyone else is wearing if it makes you uncomfortable. Wear comfortable clothes that fit and ignore the size tags, or heck—remove them! You can’t measure your self-worth or judge it by a number.
Don’t Force Yourself
We know that isolation feeds an eating disorder but you don’t have to force yourself to go to every event. If you don’t feel ready to face a specific situation or fear food, give yourself permission to opt out. Would you want a loved one to attend an event that caused him or her significant pain? I doubt it! Your loved ones, whether they understand what you’re enduring or not, want what’s best for you. You don’t have to provide more details than you feel ready to. Politely decline the invitation, perhaps with an alternative date at a place you feel comfortable with.
Written by Kayla Rillie, RD