Holiday periods are full of joy, laughter, and celebration. But they can be a minefield for anyone with a mental illness, in my small experience navigating this time of year with anorexia, depression, and anxiety proves to be challenging and it seems as though the world is throwing curveballs at every opportunity. So I’ve put together a bit of a survival guide for those struggling over the holiday period.
‘You’re looking so good’
Pesky relatives sometimes say the most ignorant things and then start to dig themselves a hole, and they just keep digging. Regardless of the context of this comment be it after weight restoration, or after weight loss, it is damaging. For those who have been in weight restoration, good so often translates to fat; for those who have lost weight, it gives them added incentive to lose more weight. In the first instance, I try to remember that they are coming from a good place. This is where I try and use my wise mind and acknowledge that my emotional mind is telling me that they are calling me fat, but then use my rational mind to remember that they are commenting on my overall appearance – it could be the colour in my cheeks, it could be that my eyes are not glazed over, or it could be simply I’m smiling more. The fact is we don’t know what they were commenting on and by guessing it is about our weight we are only projecting our insecurities on to them.
For the situation where you have lost weight and relatives praise your recent weight loss, how you respond can depend on where in your eating disorder you are. If you are aware of your relapse and struggling it can be infuriating and complimentary all at the same time. If it is someone I am close with I might just say I’d appreciate it if we don’t comment on my weight or appearance. If it is someone I don’t know very well, I try and remember that diet culture has taught us that weight loss should always be a compliment and it isn’t my fault they have bought into the diet industry.
‘I’m so bad for eating this dessert’
Phrases like this are almost part of common courtesy these days. It is almost as if we have to say this in order to show that we know that what we are doing doesn’t fit within society’s definition of ‘healthy food’. However, I can almost guarantee that for those without an eating disorder this is a passing statement. After they have their dessert they simply move on and go about their day. As my dietician told me, normal eaters might say something like this but they don’t believe it like someone with an eating disorder would. People without eating disorders don’t realise all the little lessons diet culture has preached and how it might affect people that have eating disorders.
‘My new year’s resolution is to eat clean and get lean!’
Remember that they are not in recovery from an eating disorder and even if they are struggling with an eating disorder their stuff isn’t your stuff. If you feel up to it, sass them back and tell them that your new year’s resolution is to ‘stop dieting, and cherish my body because it’s freaking amazing as it is’. New year’s diet talk is the worst and there is no escaping it. Just breathe in and out and maybe scream into a pillow. I feel like a broken record but most people say these are their new year’s resolutions but they do so more out of obligation because clean eating and weight loss are what we should be striving for right? WRONG! and the people who don’t realise that are missing out on what life is really about!
Remember that this time of year is tough, but it will pass just like all things do. You have survived every holiday period to date and you will survive one more. Mental illness doesn’t take a holiday so it is okay to not be okay around this time of year. No matter what, you are loved and you are worthy.