Coping with Easter, with an eating disorder

The Easter holiday is an opportunity to celebrate the changing of seasons and take the long bank holiday weekend to reconnect with our loved ones. But for those living with an eating disorder, Easter can represent multiple challenges.

Today we’re taking a look at those challenges and sharing our tips for ensuring an eating disorder doesn’t hold you back from enjoying the holiday.

Surviving the social bit

Easter is an opportunity for families to reconnect and revel in the spring season. Whilst this can be a joyful experience, it can be challenging for those in recovery as there’s the risk of (often well-meaning) comments triggering unhelpful thoughts and feelings. The ole “you look well!” comment can stir up all sorts of thoughts and feelings, and the last thing we want is to feel on edge during a holiday that brings up multiple challenges.

Our tip? Be mindful of who you’re sitting near or next to, and if you feel they’ll say something that will cause difficulty at the table, see if you can switch up the seating plan. Make sure you’re sitting next to someone who you feel comfortable with so you can squeeze their hand if something comes up.

Have a ‘time out’ plan

If family time sounds overwhelming – that’s okay! Family time can be overwhelming for people regardless of whether they’re suffering with an eating disorder or not. Perhaps you’re seeing distant family members you haven’t seen for a while, or simply returning to or visiting an environment that holds many difficult memories and emotions. Either way, be mindful of not judging what comes up for you. As above, even for the most ‘well’ individuals, family time can be stressful.

Our tip? Ensure you have a safe space you can return to for some reflection and peace and quiet. Perhaps you could create a safe word with a family member so they know you need a short break and need to be checked in with after a period of time. All of these actions are ways of ensuring you can keep your recovery the priority – it is not “needy” or “weak” to need time out.

When it comes to mealtimes, plan ahead

As much as you probably don’t want to think about food and mealtimes, “to prepare is half the victory”. Like many holidays, there can be an emphasis on food at Easter. Some in recovery might find the thought of this terrifying, others may be able to see it as an opportunity to challenge their eating disorder and ‘fear foods’.

Our tip? If you can, take a moment to sit with a loved one and discuss your anxieties and what your triggers might be during the weekend. Perhaps you can reach out to whoever is hosting the event to let them know that you’re going through a difficult time and may need some small adjustments to the plan in order for you to join in as much as possible. It’s okay to state your needs and ensure that they are met.

Dealing with downtime discomfort

People in recovery can struggle to find meaning during periods of downtime that don’t have any clear productive direction. There can be a fear that overwhelming emotions or critical thoughts will sneak in and get too much of the spotlight. Finding ways to soothe yourself in the midst of this discomfort is an important means of working *with* the difficult emotions.

Our tip? Create a list of toolbox (or list) of activities you can do. There are a number of activities that don’t have to take you away from your family, for instance, colouring in a colouring book – this can keep you “busy” without really doing anything. It’s also a great way to focus the mind and enter a state of “flow” that allows you to perceive and process thoughts that arise during the practice. You might want to start a jigsaw puzzle or sort out your playlists. There’s nothing wrong with having a back-up plan!

Struggling with bingeing?

For someone living with Binge Eating Disorder or Bulimia (or another eating disorder that involves bingeing), coping with cravings can be one of the biggest challenges, and we may find that the cravings get stronger during the holidays where the celebratory air encourages ‘indulgence’.

Our tip? One method to curb cravings is to ask yourself: What am I really hungry for? What is my craving actually about? What is it really for? Whilst it’s completely normal to crave food – particularly if you’ve been restricting your food intake – for some, cravings can be an attempt to avoid or resist difficult feelings. But when our heart resides in a place of compassion and not from control or rigid boundaries (i.e. restricting), we can nurture the skills and awareness to set sensible boundaries, stay present with our feelings, and know and be able to express our needs, longings and desires. Locate the physical sensations that arise in the body and be curious about it:  “why are you here and what are you trying to protect me from?”.

Be gentle, be compassionate

There’s no ‘right way’ to do Easter, just as there’s no ‘right way’ to recover from an eating disorder. Uncomfortable or confusing feelings and emotions may arise, but all we have to do is stay curious about them and refocus onto the present. Perhaps set an intention for the bank holiday weekend, e.g: I am making choices for my recovery. Or, I can start over as many times as I need. No matter what happens, every experience is an opportunity to learn and find out more about yourself and your recovery.

You can do it.  

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