The holidays can be high stress for many of us who are in recovery. But they can be especially difficult for those who are in recovery from an eating disorder. Unsurprisingly, things don’t exactly get better once the clock strikes midnight on the new year and our social media feeds are flooded with a barrage of “new year, new you” memes. Even worse, January is classically known as “the month when everyone goes on a diet” — that time of year when those who overindulged try to take off their holiday weight or people who want to lose weight set their resolutions to do so.
However, all of this messaging from the media, the multi-billion-dollar health and fitness industry, and our well-meaning friends can be particularly harmful if you’re trying to stay sane and sober. This time of year, we’re constantly bombarded with ads for diets and gym membership. However, this year we’re instead resolving to combat our fatphobia and arm ourselves with these 10 tips to get through diet month.
1. Skip the New Year’s Resolutions
If you woke up on New Year’s Day with high anxiety, you are not alone. Pants fitting differently? Don’t worry. It isn’t an emergency, even if it feels like one. If you’ve been addressing disordered eating like anorexia, bulimia, binging, or body dysmorphia, you may have had a setback. Remember, that’s not permanent. It doesn’t erase all of the great strides you’ve made. Be kind to yourself. There is nothing you need to do right now. You will get back on track. No lists. No swearing off foods. New Year’s resolutions around eating are a recipe for disaster.
2. Fat Is Not a Feeling
In therapy, I used to say, “I feel fat.” That’s where I learned fat is not a feeling. You will learn to recognize how you feel. Ask yourself, “Am I anxious, angry, hungry, tired, mad, or sad? Is it remorse I am experiencing? Loneliness? Shame?” Common expressions show how integral eating is to the human experience. We stuff our feelings, swallow pride, and force down unpleasantness. We can be empty or bitter. We bite off more than we can chew. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. Now, recognize the real feelings in your gut.
3. Feelings Aren’t Facts
Do you see yourself realistically? Learn about perceptions. When you look in the mirror, is the reflection distorted? Change a thought to change a feeling. The first step to new habits is: Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts create feelings. But what if your mind is lying? You are powerful. Switch to thoughts that offer peace like, “I am kind, loving, and loyal.” Avoid feeling shame by changing your thoughts. Eating is not a moral issue. No matter what you ate, you weren’t “bad.”
4. Positive Self-Talk
Choose soothing phrases that create self-affirmation. My favorite phrase is, “I am fine the way I am.” Old self-talk may butt in to argue (“You are not”), note that. Then go back to repeating positive words. Esteemable words are soothing. Think of this practice as an exercise. Move your attention away from upsetting language. Return to your new mantra and watch your self-image improve!
5. Smell, Taste, Experience, Enjoy
Healthier eating comes from being conscious. Experience sensations. Smell your food. Taste it. Enjoy textures Downing a slice of pizza while racing to catch a train is not a meal. Try dining without distractions. Avoid texting, posting pics to Instagram, or watching YouTube. Don’t learn new features on an iPhone while you chew. Be present. Savor each bite. The body and mind receive rewards from loving care.
6. Live in the Now
Bring your attention to the present. The past is history; the future is a mystery. What matters is right now. Learn to let go of nagging thoughts that create stress. Be where your feet are. Let everything else float out of your head. If you are washing dishes, make that the only focus. Note the warm water and bubbly suds. If you start worrying again, gently bring yourself back. Notice the sounds, smells, physical sensations. Are you standing comfortably? Perhaps your neck is tense. Notice that, then shift positions and breathe in. As you exhale, relax your tight muscles.
7. The Body Scan
Here’s a quick tool to get right to the here and now. No matter how busy you are, even a quick version is rewarding. Take five minutes for yourself. Choose a comfy position. Close your eyes and forget the outside world. Turn your awareness inward. There’s nothing to change or do. Become a curious observer. Then scan your body. Noticing how the top of your head feels, then your forehead, cheeks, and jaw. Make observations but no judgments. It’s a check-in with all of your parts — neck, shoulders, arms, hands, all the way down to your toes. If you’d prefer guidance through this process, Google “body scan meditation” and a gazillion options pop up.
8. No Putting the Kibosh on Your Favorites
Rigid fad diets include taboos. No carbs. No sugar. No fat. This type of eating is rarely sustainable. Abstinence from faves triggers cravings. Deprivation kicks in. Frustration — even rage — can take over. We may feel out of control. Negative thoughts can snowball. That can result in feelings of remorse. You can develop a healthy and balanced relationship with food. Addictive behaviors developed as an escape. Try new things like keeping a journal, meditating, seeking counsel, and learning mindfulness.
9. Wear the World Like a Loose Garment
I’m so literal. When I first heard that phrase, I thought it meant switching to wearing loose garments. That helped but there’s more to the saying. It means to relax by letting go. Free your mind from all of the unnecessary worries. Skip unreliable predictions like what-ifs about your future. Feel the wind in your hair, smell the flowers.
10. Go Where It’s Warm
We humans are not meant to be alone. We thrive on connection! Build a community that offers warmth and friendship. Hang around those that are nurturing and make you feel understood. Seek out healthy characteristics like acceptance, positivity, empathy. Gravitate toward people who make you feel safe and watch your confidence grow!
It’s not easy to get through January with the millions of posts and ads you might see about dieting but, with our tips, you CAN do it. Sure, it’s going to take some work to make sure that you stay safe, sane, and sober this month, but you can do that too. Stay strong and bookmark this page if you have to.