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written by MEDA Clinician & Director of Community Education, Monique Bellefleur, Ed.M, MHC
For many, Halloween means dressing up in a silly costume, taking the kids in your life trick-or-treating, and marathon watching Stranger Things 2 and for most, Halloween involves in some way, shape, or form a big bowl of candy.
For people struggling with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Halloween can mark the start of a 2-month long holiday obstacle course with a finish line of January 2nd: navigating an alternate path past the CVS candy aisle, trudging through family and work holiday get-togethers, hurdling over Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Years with a final face-off against the January 1st “New Year, New you!” weight-loss ads.
This obstacle course takes a heck of a lot of endurance especially if all the while you’re trying to steadily hold your progress in BED recovery like your own Olympic torch – never to be dropped, never to be extinguished, and held high with pride. Don’t be surprised if your metaphorical arm gets tired…It’s not easy to run with a fiery torch in your hand!
All jokes aside, here are some tips for maintaining your progress in BED recovery through the holiday season (You CAN do this!):
- Meet yourself where you’re at: You might be at a place in your recovery where you can attend all of the holiday functions and benefit from exposing yourself to former binge-foods while remaining binge-free. You may also be at a point in your recovery where being surrounded by holiday delicacies is not manageable for you. Be honest with yourself: do you need to avoid the candy aisle? Do you need to set a limit for how long you can stay at your work’s Christmas lunch? Either way – It’s OKAY!
- Practice Self-Compassion: Yes, every time I say “Self-Compassion” in my BED support group, I hear a resounding group sigh. I get it! Self-Compassion is NOT easy, but is the cure to shame and self-judgement. If you slip-up and have a binge (or 2 or 3 or 10), instead of beating yourself up, talk to yourself as if you were a dear friend: “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. This isn’t worth beating yourself up over. You are a good person. The food you eat has nothing to do with your self-worth. You are worthy, and valuable, and gosh darn-it people like you!” Remember, you are SO much more than your eating disorder.
- HALT: Are you Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? If it’s the holidays, you can probably say yes to all of these questions. Make sure you take a moment to “HALT” when feeling vulnerable to a binge:
- Hungry? Eat a nutrient-dense snack like a fruit/veggie/or protein. If you’re still hungry, eat another. Wait 10 minutes, and ask yourself if you’re “belly hungry” again (Thank you to the group member who taught me that helpful phrase).
- Angry? Turn the music up loud in your car and sing at the top of your lungs. Punch a pillow. Do 15 jumping jacks. Yell! Dance like crazy to “Monster Mash”. Release your anger in a way that does not involve pushing your anger down with food.
- Lonely? Reach out for support. Text a friend. Facetime a family member. Call your therapist. Pet your dog. It’s a lot easier to successfully make it to the end of the holiday season with someone by your side to cheer you on.
- Tired? REST! Yes, there are presents to wrap, greeting cards to send, and financial reports due by the end of the year, but you will not be able to complete these tasks and maintain your recovery unless you are taking time to rest. Your body and mind can only handle so much without time to reenergize.
- Do Self-Care: When you’re taking care of yourself and feeling good, you are less vulnerable to bingeing or utilizing other self-harming behaviors. Make time and space for YOU this holiday season. Eat regularly throughout the day. Buy yourself a Christmas gift that brings you joy. Take yourself to a gentle yoga class. Make yourself a cup of warm apple cider. Nap by the fire. Walk through the fallen leaves. You deserve it.
And finally, remember that “normal” eating is flexible eating. You are not a good person for eating brussel sprouts, and you are not a bad person for eating pumpkin pie. All foods fit. It is normal to occasionally overeat, and if you do overeat, it does not mean that you need to punish yourself with restriction the next day. Eat breakfast like you normally would and continue holding your eating disorder recovery torch high.