How An Ex-Bulimic Survives the Holidays

If you haven’t seen one already, you probably will this week: a blog post or twitter chat about how NOT to gain weight during the Holidays. It is a common theme for bloggers and tweeters this time of year. Well-intentioned people share tips and tricks for negotiating the Holiday gathering, from bringing your own food, to slimming down cocktails to eating before hand. The possibilities for caloric avoidance are endless; not to mention all the ways to burn those forbidden calories.

I am well versed in the avoidance and burning of forbidden calories. For nine years I waged war on my body and my weight in the form of anorexia and bulimia. For me it was a year-round battle, but the Holidays were especially hard. But “hard” isn’t even the right word, the Holidays were a time of anxiety, fear, guilt and depression. The Holidays were a perfect storm for me: all the food that I was fighting against right there in front of me from the end of November to the first of the year. The more I tried to control the less control I had. Weeks of beating up my body would come to a head on New Years Eve where I’d resolve to not have an eating disorder, to lose weight, to exercise more, to fit into such-and-such clothes. Things would get better for a few days but ultimately I’d return to the same destructive habits.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but where I am now is so far. So Far. From where I was then. I am in a place now where I can embrace the Holiday season as a season of feasting. I have little concern for whether or not I will gain weight and I carry on with my normal exercise routine because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to burn calories.

One of the things that allowed me to come to this place of peace with the Holiday season is that I admitted I was powerless and I let go of control. And that seemingly gave me all the control in the world, because now I can walk into a Holiday gathering and the food there has no hold on me. Weight and body image seem to be of universal consciousness for most women. You don’t have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to find that the Holidays exacerbate a struggle with body image, weight and food.

Let go of Control. For the longest time I lived in extremes. Either, or. There was no in between. I was either binging or starving. There were acceptable foods or forbidden foods. It was all driven by fear that I would gain weight. Nearly every decision about food or exercise came from a place of fear and that fear drove me to control everything. I tried every trick in the book to avoid eating at holiday gatherings: I brought my own food, ate before hand, vowed to eat nothing, chewed piece after piece of gum nothing worked. The more I tried to control the food, the more power it had over me. I gave it so much importance that it dominated my life, preoccupied every waking thought, dictated how I felt about myself. To gain control you have to let go of it. More often than not tightening your grip will backfire. Try to let go of the number on the scale. When faced with discouraging thoughts about your weight or guilt from eating “forbidden foods,” recognize those thoughts as unhelpful and destructive and replace them with a positive, encouraging thought.

Embrace the Season. All of life is cyclical. Humans are cyclical, we function best when we move in and out of seasons of hard work and rest; seasons of discipline and seasons of feasting. When I started to embrace the season for what it was: a time of feasting, I noticed a greater peace. I’ve embraced the fact that the holidays are a time of year where I tend to eat more. I may gain weight during the holidays. But it doesn’t elicit the fear that it used to. Now I know that as I return to my normal eating and exercise patterns after the holidays that weight will most likely come off. More importantly my ability to “eat clean” doesn’t define who I am, it is something I can move in and out of as the year cycles past. I’m not denying the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, or suggesting the holidays are a time to binge. I’m suggesting that there is value in a season of feasting, to find what that value is for you and see if you can embrace it.

Focus on the People. When food becomes the focus you lose sight of the people around you. The more I focused on not gaining weight the more disengaged I became with the people around me. Now that food is no longer my focus I am free to engage fully with my family and friends who I see throughout the Holidays. If your focus is on the people around you, food, body image and weight gain or loss will lose their importance and ultimately their power. Make engaging with others the goal of your Holiday gatherings.

Ask for Help. I spent many years struggling alone. Partly out of embarrassment and partly because I really didn’t want to relinquish control and resented anyone who tried help. Asking for help, especially if you struggle with an eating disorder, is essential. The journey to freedom is not one that you can walk alone. But if you find that the Holidays are a difficult time for you and your self-talk becomes incredibly discouraging and negative, bring a friend or family member

into that. Clue them in to your struggle, bringing light to it will ultimately help you.

There is a vast difference between being paranoid of gaining weight and embracing the Holidays as a time of feasting. It has been a long journey, but not an impossible one. If the Holidays are a struggle for you, they don’t have to be. It starts with changing the way you think, little by little, step by step.

Peace.

–Sarah

If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is please seek help from a licensed professional. The advice offered in this post is from my personal experience. I am not a licensed health care provider. Although I am happy to offer any support to those who struggle but desire to be free.

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Comments

    • scanney says

      Thanks Krysten, I totally agree: we are too hard on ourselves. I think it is unrealistic to be 100% “on” all the time with our diets and exercise, we need off-seasons and times of “feasting.” Thanks for reading!

  1. Sarah Hussey says

    Thank you so much for this post Sarah. As I had mentioned to you yesterday on our run, I was able to lose those pesky 20lbs I had gained after having Jonathan this past year, and I don’t want to gain it back… I am at a healthy weight now, and want to maintain that, but as you said, it is okay to enjoy the holidays, and just get back on track after. I don’t think that I overdo it on eating too much, I just might not make as good of choices as I normally do… but it won’t kill me :)

    • scanney says

      Good for you for committing to lose that weight and keeping it off. I think once you become active and it is a part of your daily routine, and you know you’ll return to it or maintain it through the Holidays it becomes easier to give yourself the freedom to enjoy the food. We can’t be 100% on with our diets and exercise all the time, it would be so exhausting!

  2. says

    Ex-bulimic to ex-bulimic, I totally understand and appreciate this. My sister has been an amazing support, and she really helps ease my anxiety around the holidays. I still get nervous leading up to it, and generally avoid all the Thanksgiving recipe chatter, but at least now, like you said, I will eat my meal and concentrate on the people, not the overwhelming amounts of food!

    • scanney says

      Thanks for reading and commenting:) My family was an incredible support to me, especially my husband. Glad that you have someone to help you stay focused on the positives of the holiday season.

    • scanney says

      God, when I think back to how dark and secretive it was it feels so ugly to me. And when I think about the people (friends/acquaintances/extended family) who might read this, even though it has been nearly five years, I feel a little embarrassed. But I think exposing it to the light is the way to break it’s power. Yeah. I am not proud of it. It was ugly. And honestly a blur. I’m am so grateful to be free. Thanks for reading and commenting:)

  3. Frannie says

    What an excellent blog post. One of the best that I have read addressing holiday eating and weight issues – very liberating. Such a great reminder about maintaining a balanced perspective. Thanks so much for sharing your life struggles and triumphs. I appreciate your honesty – it’s refreshing :)

    • scanney says

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I try to be as honest as possible. It was such a struggle for me when I went through it and I suffered silently. Hopefully this will encourage others to reach out.

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