How An Ex-Bulimic Handles the Holidays

I used to dread Holidays. It had nothing to do with family and everything to do with me and my relationship with food. A bulimic does not handle Holidays (and all the food that they entail) well. I knew, no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to binge or purge, so in a way I planned on it. The binge would start at Thanksgiving in November, continue with Christmas parties through the entire month of December and culminate on New Years Eve with the most massive binge and purge of all because (of course) the next day would be a "fresh start" and I would resolve to not be bulimic in the coming year. For those three months I was a wreck: constantly bingeing and purging does a number on your body as well as your emotions. I was often sick for those three months with a cold or sore throat. I would disengage with the people who loved me, trying to go unnoticed as I slipped into the bathroom. I'd lie to my husband when he tried to keep me accountable: the one person, who more than anyone, loved me and wanted the best for me. I pushed him away and in the process alienating myself in my struggle. I would continually beat myself up over my behavior, feeling guilty and helpless to the point of wanting to end my life. This is how the Holidays went for me for nine years. It was awful. By the grace of God those days are thankfully (oh, so thankfully!) behind me. For the last three years I have enjoyed the Holidays. Because my mind is not preoccupied with my obsessive eating disorder I can engage fully with those who love me. My relationship with my husband isn't strained, it's loving, honest and sweet. It is no longer a time of anguish and frustration caused by the addiction of bulimia. I enjoy my family. I enjoy my life. I enjoy the food.

I never thought I would be able to enjoy food during the Holiday season, but now I can. In the last three years I've developed ways of handling holiday parties and family gatherings that allow me to enjoy myself without feeling guilty and keep me clear of the dangerous edge of slipping back into bulimic behavior. Whether or not you struggle with an eating disorder you may find these tips helpful:

Don't Restrict: I used to go to Holiday parties and family gatherings with a list of what I was "allowed" to eat and what was "off-limits". I'd tell myself I'll only have the veggies. I won't have any desserts. I won't eat the cheese. Now I try to be as open as possible. There are no foods that are off-limits. My focus is on being as in tune with my body as possible. I want to be intuitive in the way I eat. Sometimes that means saying "yes" because the pumpkin cheesecake looks amazing and sometimes it means saying "no" because if I eat more crackers and cheese now I won't be hungry for the meal. Instead of telling myself what I can't eat I allow myself to eat what I want in moderation.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol: Alcohol impairs our ability not just to drive or operate heavy machinery it also impairs our self-control and ability to eat intuitively. It is hard to be "in tune" with your body when you've had too much to drink. If you want to make good decision--to be able to know what "moderation" means for you in the moment--then it is best to avoid amounts of alcohol that impair you ability to do so.

Don't "Eat Before You Go:" I used to eat before going to parties: I'd fill myself up on fat-free yogurt and carrot sticks to try to avoid having to eat at a party. Inevitably I would eat binge at the party. The best thing you can do during the holidays is to stick to the normal timing of your meals and snacks. If you do, you will remain more intuitive with your eating. So if a party happens to be at a meal or snack time, then eat at the party. But if not listen to your body and eat before or after. The same goes for skipping meals to "save room" or "save calories" for what you will be eating at the party. Trying to out smart your stomach or trick your body into not eating or eating when it isn't ready will always backfire. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.

Step Away: Both literally and figuratively, it is best at times to step away. Sometimes I still feel drawn in by a disordered/obsessive view of food. I get very inwardly focused: on what I've eaten, how many calories I have consumed and if I'll have time to exercise tomorrow or not. When I get to this place, that's when I need to step away. This doesn't just happen to me at holiday parties, it happens when I'm at home too: when my kids are napping and I want a snack and I start to go over in my mind what I "can" or "cannot" have. I'm at the point now where I recognize this disordered thinking as it rises up and am able to deal with it in a healthy way. If I'm at home I walk away and do something else (laundry, dishes...goodness knows there's enough of that around here to do) and then come back to the decision later with a better mindset. If I'm at a holiday party I step away from the food and try to engage someone in conversation or step outside to collect my thoughts and bring the truth back into focus. The truth I remind myself of: that in my weakness, God is my strength.

Every Day is New: When I was in the thick of my disordered thinking I always carried the failures and disappointments of one day into the next. I was a walking guilt trip. Constantly guilting myself into feeling miserable about myself (I was sooo fun to be around). It has been refreshing and renewing to treat each day as if it is a blank slate. And sometimes I need to treat each new moment as a blank slate. Whatever happens: whatever I do or don't eat, whether or not I exercise I try to leave it behind as I begin a new day.

This year I am looking forward to sharing Thanksgiving with my family and then celebrating my daughters third birthday in December (Gosh! Can she really be three already?). Christmas too will be so fun: there are now four grandkids all under the age of three who will bring so much light and life to our gathering. And then, I'll ring in the New Year with my husband and our friends, another year...sober and free.

Do you enjoy the holidays? What are some of the ways you stay healthy and balanced through the holidays?