December Blog: Strategies for Holiday Stressors

By Julianna Hindemith, Silver Linings’ Volunteer

Once again the holiday season is upon us. Pumpkins and plastic spiders are being replaced by sparkling lights, candy canes and luscious evergreen wreaths. However, the holiday season isn’t a joyous celebration for everyone. It can be a very triggering time for individuals who have an eating disorder. It is actually common for people with eating disorders to experience an increase in symptoms as the holidays approach. The heightened emphasis on food during this time is one reason. Pressure to be more social and upbeat can also increase anxiety.

If I think back to the “holidays” of my eating disorder years, for a long time they played like a series - the current season being more dramatic than the last. I would always tell myself a month prior that if I lost a ton of weight before attending a family celebration, then I would finally be allowed to enjoy myself, and eat and act like everyone else. In reality of course this never worked. I would still be anxious about every bite and every comment, pick fights with my parents and siblings, and count down the moments until I could go home and be alone with my eating disorder. But that was then.

Gratefully the holidays are much less stressful for me now, and my hope in writing this is that this can become the case for you too. Whether you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, in recovery from an eating disorder or caring for someone with an eating disorder, here are some tips that helped me better navigate this time of the year:

  1. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder being mindful that the holidays are about being with your loved ones can help shift your focus away from food. Try to dial down the noise of the eating disorder and take the time to reflect on what the season truly means to you. Try to remember that you are loved and have much love to give. Also, with those who you feel comfortable confiding in, try to openly discuss how they can support you during this triggering time.

  2. If you are currently in recovery don’t feel the need to attend every event that you are invited to. Instead, prioritize the parties that you feel the most comfortable attending and be sure to structure your day to help you keep to your prescribed recovery plan. This is especially important with respect to your scheduled meal times. Also, openly dialogue with your treatment team about any concerns about the holidays that come up for you. You don’t need to go this alone. Let them help you develop effective coping strategies that work for you.

  3. If you are a caregiver of someone with an eating disorder, try to remain positive. The holidays are about  spending quality time together. Try to come up with some non food-centered activities that all of you can enjoy as a family. Regarding your loved one’s eating behaviours over the holidays, understanding where they are in their recovery process combined with validation, goes a long way. For example, if they are not yet ready to eat in front of others, be supportive. Your acceptance and respect for their process will mean a lot.

If you keep only one thing in mind this holiday season let it be this: healing takes time, be kind to yourself.

Silver Linings clinical advisor and Registered Psychologist, Adele Fox, has some additional tips for not only surviving but thriving this holiday season. These are as follows:

  1. For someone struggling with an eating disorder.
    Have an exit strategy
    so that if you become overwhelmed at a function you can make an escape. Try to avoid putting yourself in situations where you have no control over being able to take care of yourself.
    Eat regularly. Do not starve yourself in anticipation of Christmas dinner or an event as this can lead to an increase in symptoms and stress.
    Take a time out if having to eat at a buffet or family style spread to breathe and visualize what you will choose for your plate. Do a walkabout of the food table and then step back and consciously make your food selections.
    Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can cause you to become disinhibited and lead to binging/purging behaviors and difficulties with managing your emotions.   
    Take one or two food items that are safe for you if attending a house function so that, worst case scenario, you will feel comfortable eating something. Another option is to plan to arrive at a function after the meal.   

  2. For loved ones.
    Avoid talking about dieting and making weight/shape or appearance related comments.
    If you want to share a compliment, focus on non-appearance related traits: a person’s laugh, how their eyes light up when they smile or their great sense of humor.  
    If possible, serve meals in the kitchen so that there is not an abundance of food on the table. Serve fun foods (chocolates, candy, dessert items) at set times or lay these out for a limited time only then put them away or send them home with guests.
    Take care of yourself too. Make sure that you have support such as a therapist, a trusted friend, online support groups or literature on the recovery process. Loving someone who is struggling with an eating disorder can be exhausting and stressful.

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September Blog: The Dangers of Social Media

Social media is a dangerous place for recovery. Initially created as a way to keep friends up-to-date and connected with each other, unfortunately it is also a source of comparison. According to a recent study, the average young adult spends approximately five hours a day online. Triggering posts are littered across the internet and make it very difficult to find a safe space to heal.

Instagram, for example, showcases images and lifestyles that predominantly equate beauty, power and love with have a slim body. This, aided by the portrayal of women in the diet and fitness industries and our generational belief that we must live our “happiest” life everyday, advocates for an impractical idealized lifestyle (FYI, #nobaddays doesn’t exist).

Though Instagram encourages self-expression and a sense of community, it is still crowded with false realities. In fact, all social media platforms host false realities, and engaging with them while  recovering from a very realistic and damaging mental illness can be damaging to the healing process.

“All photos are accurate, none of them are the truth,”

shared Richard Avedon, an American fashion and portrait photographer.

When using the term “truth”, he was referring to the fact that the emotions felt about any photo depend on your particular frame of mind at that moment in time. So, if you are having a bad self-esteem day, your perception of what is beautiful or favoured may be altered. You must ask yourself: whenever you see a new post on your feed, are you being objective or subjective?

Browsing social media makes it easy to be discouraged and feel confused about your self-worth. Here are some tips to help avoid triggering photos:

  1. Unfollow negative accounts: The first step to avoid triggers on social media is to take away any temptation. If an account doesn’t support your recovery, unfollow it. Purge yourself of any content that may be toxic for you. Facebook now offers the option of temporarily hiding people’s accounts and you can also “mute” profiles on Instagram.

  2. Follow body positive information: There are many accounts that promote healthy body image and recovery. Filling your feed with positive messaging can help to give you inspiration and look at things differently.

  3. Take a social media break: Sometimes you just need a breather. It can be helpful to download an app that temporarily locks your social media accounts. You can also set time limits and temporarily suspend them without losing your account, so you can have space to recover without having to give it up entirely.

  4. Have a plan: Mistakes happen. That’s why having a plan on how to de-stress and reset your mindset after seeing a triggering post is important.  Whether it is calling a friend, going through breathing exercises or simply taking a minute to shut everything off, having a plan can help you  alleviate stress.

  5. Ask for help: Ask a friend to be there with you for when you decide to re-enter the world of social media. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Having someone there to support you can be encouraging and helpful during this process.

Overwhelming? We know. Social media can be exciting and addictive.. But it  can also sabotage your recovery. You deserve more true, “self-defined” happiness, versus being bombarded with others’ definitions, and images,  of superficial happiness.

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