Hope For The Holidays

The holidays can be a very magical and special time for many people around the world but for others the holidays equate stress, anxiety, sadness or anger. This can be for a variety of reasons, familial issues, relationship issues, money issues, health issues the list goes on. For some reason the holiday season is the flashlight that shines on many of these issues for so many. This blog post is written to hopefully shine the light away from all the stress and anxiety and shine the light on the ways you can turn the stress and anxiety into peace, comfort and joy.

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As you are reading this I am sure you are saying how? I know many eating disorder blog posts related to the holidays are focused on the food and food anxiety associated with this time of year. I want to mainly focus on the emotional aspects associated not only surrounding food but surrounding holidays in general. Someone who has or is battling an eating disorder has created a relationship of protection and need surrounding their eating disorder. For many who are still in their disorder the holidays reflect a time where protection and a feeling of safety needs to take place. Protection meaning how do I avoid food this holiday? How do I binge this holiday and have no one notice? How can I purge this holiday without anyone noticing? For someone in recovery the dilemma is how can I prepare for this holiday? How can I stay calm around food this holiday? How can I make sure I don’t under eat or overeat this holiday? I am sure the list of questions and thoughts go on and on. I am here to focus on the fact that these questions and worry can actually feed into the anxiety and stress one may be experiencing. Do not get me wrong to be prepared and mindful and have a plan in place are of utmost importance however ruminating in the thought and worry will only increase thoughts and worry. Implementig action plans and solutions to counteract these thoughts is key.

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For many people that I work with the anticipation of the holiday is often times worse than the holiday itself. Acceptance of where you are at in your recovery or in your disease is a crucial first step for helping you create an action plan.

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Accepting and releasing- This is an important skill because so many people fight and beat themselves up over what they may be going through or facing in life. Accept that you may be struggling, accept that things may not be where you want them be and release any guilt or shame associated with it. Guilt and shame is truly like a prison that keeps you locked up, bound and stuck where you are. If someone who is struggling can come to a place of acceptance, then the light can be shown on the underlying issues that need to be cared for, addressed and movement can begin to happen. This holiday accept and release that this may be a hard time, a stressful time but its ok, you are ok. Release the guilt and shame, release that it may be a hard time for you and accept that for anyone struggling you are doing your best and like any other day the holiday will pass. 

Mindfulness – Become aware of what triggers any emotional upsets or anxiety for you. Whether it be food triggers or emotional triggers. Identify what they might be and for each one create an alternative thought, plan or identify someone you can turn to for support. Many times when someone is triggered the reaction is fueled off of  instinct and impulse. Instinct to push away or ignore feelings, impulse to act out, numb or find a way to cope that may be unhealthy. When someone can become aware of what their triggers are and how it affects their behavior it can be empowering because then an alternative action plan can be created. This holiday if food is your trigger think of a safety person or anchor (object) that you can reference or go to for extra support to help ease your anxiety. Visualize a safe space and take a moment for yourself to be in your safe visual space and breathe.

Presence- Be present with yourself often times someone who is battling or in recovery from an eating disorder has to learn how to reconnect mind body and spirit. An eating disorder serves for many as a way to disconnect from self, people and emotions. The concept of being present can be a difficult one.The concept of being and staying present is important because often times the build up of thoughts of what could or would happen is the catalyst for emotional turmoil and fear. This holiday season challenge yourself to stay present with where you will be, with the people surrounding you, to conversations, to the atmosphere. By becoming present you will allow yourself to become more aware and these are powerful skills to learn.

Prepare- For someone with an eating disorder the stress of being surrounded by food and what to eat and how much can be very tiring. If you are in recovery one of the best things you can do is stick to your meal plan the best you can. For anyone struggling, do your best to plan what you will eat ahead of time so you are not overwhelmed or panicked in the moment. Preparing will allow you to be more present and aware of your surroundings. The anxiety of comments families or loved ones can make or conversations that may be triggering can cause a lot of anxiety as well. Be honest and open beforehand with your family and ask that certain comments not be made or conversations not be had. By setting boundaries you are not only keeping yourself safe you are communicating your needs to the people who love you.

Love and compassion- Be loving and compassionate to yourself, the holidays can be hard, but getting through the holidays when struggling with an eating disorder can be very challenging. Remember to be kind to yourself with your words, actions and thoughts. Reach out for support and allow yourself to be your own support system as well. Love and use your voice to be open with any struggles you may face and set boundaries with family or friends to help them understand your needs and wants. By loving yourself you are allowing others to love and help you as well.

Have hope, if the flashlight can be focused not on the stress, worry and anxiety but onto the hope that is within, chances are the light will showcase things that for someone struggling with an eating disorder can begin to look at, focus on and be grateful. Lets shine the light on hope this holiday season and most of all shine the light of hope within ourselves.

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Untangling the Eating Disorder Web

I reflect back to when I was younger and I remember talking with my friends, laughing over music, movies, actors we had crushes on and I remember how much of my childhood was organic innocent and fun. I now think about times today and it baffles me how much the focus and conversations of todays youth has changed. Young girls and boys have become increasingly more aware and fixated over not only body image but overall appearance and image of self. The focus has become so heigntened and it only continues to grow. With today’s  celebrities, media fixations etc  the younger generation is being fed false images and personas that are impossible and dangerous to want to obtain. I do not blame any specific avenue for the increase in our younger generations precoccupation with self and image but I think there are many contributing components for what leads children at a younger age to develop a complex with their body, themselves and their self esteem.

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I like to compare an eating disorder to a spider spinning its web. It starts small but slowly and over time can continue to be spun and develop and grow bigger and bigger. As it develops it has unmeasurable strength and has developed into the foundation of what the spider lives on. Eating disorders are like the web. It is my mission to help clients untangle that web and remove the tangles that bind them. What makes an eating disorder one of the hardest things to overcome is, like the spider in its web, it becomes the source of survival and a sense of comfort and a home. Understanding this concept alone as a therapist has helped me to help those who are struggling. To understand and be able to empathize with the fact that for someone who has a an eating disorder it is serving a purpose in their lives, it is tangled within them, it is not who they are or a life they are choosing to live but it is what they are are tangled in. Understanding the many layers of their eating disorder web will help the therapist bring to light new revelations but most importantly empower a client to untangle themselves from the web and break free.

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I attended a very interesting talk from a wonderful woman in the eating disorder field, Anita Johnson and she imparted so much wisdom into me and how I will further expand on the way I treat eating disorders. One thing she spoke about really stuck out to me and it was her saying to look past the eating disorder behaviors. As a clinician in private practice or working in treatment centers one thing I have noticed clients say is not everything is related to their eating disorder. If a client is sad, resistant, angry, frustrated I have noticed the clinician will automatically assume it is caused by their eating disorder. This is where the danger lies because we are reducing their whole being to being fixated on the fact that they have an eating disorder. The message is being sent that ” you of course are only upset because you are suffering from your eating disorder, your eating disorder thoughts are causing your emotions for the day” My questions is can someone who has an eating disorder not be upset about anything else? As clinicians we have to be careful and examine all the layers that make up our clients, not ourselves be fixated on their behaviors and relating everything to it

Anita opened my eyes to this powerful revelation. The eating disorder behavior is a symptom of the pattern someone has within other aspects of their life. A powerful question to ask someone who is battling an eating disorder is to see in what other areas of their life are they restricting, binge purging, binging etc. You may be asking how does someone binge purge anything else but food, well here are some examples.

Restricting: Restricting relationships, restricting emotions, restricting pleasure, restricting work and jobs etc

Binge/Purge: Taking on too much and feeling overwhelmed and then needing to get rid of things. Taking on too many jobs, relationships, commitments etc

Binge: Never getting enough of or feeling fulfilled by: love, sex, work, school, friendships etc

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To look at how certain behaviors are translated into other areas of someones life can be rather freeing, to say look you are not just defined by your eating disorder, everything you do is not because you have an eating disorder it is your pattern in many other things. This pattern is serving a purpose in your life! As clinicians we need to help our clients discover their web and all its components and free themselves from it. We cannot continue to fixate on one part of the web and think it will be untangled we must be the facilitators to untangle the many dimension of an eating disorder and the many dimensions of our clients.  We must become the facilitators of change! 

To see more from Priscilla Jadallah watch her online series with Bryan Bixler titled 

Behind The Mask: Eating Disorders Unveiled