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Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Specialist, Timberline Knolls
It can be easy to get bogged down by the gift deadlines, commercialism and family pressures that accompany the holiday season. What should be a joyful time often becomes a season where old family wounds are re-opened, expectations are disappointed, and for those struggling with eating disorders – the battle with food and body-image can seem insurmountable.
Eating in social situations – especially around the holidays, when everyone is simultaneously indulging in goodies (appropriate!) while making negative comments about their bodies and the diet they’ll start on January 1st (inappropriate!) – gave me major anxiety on my own road to recovery.
But my therapist gave me a great piece of advice that resonates with me to this day: Focus on the relationships, not the food.
Focusing on Family, Not Food
This would be my strategy going into holiday festivities: focus on the conversations I would have, the relationships with my family and friends, enjoying my time, being thankful. Every time the pressure to focus on the food arose in my mind, I would “bounce” my thoughts back to my relationships – the good ones.
Slowly, and over time, holiday gatherings, even ones filled with drama and tension, became easier. I practiced, over and over, choosing to focus on the people and what love I could show, rather than descend into my own personal cloud of misery, judgment and negativity.
Taking the Focus off of “Self”
I believe this strategy was such a relief, and worked, because it took the focus off of “self.” Eating disorders isolate, but the road to recovery is paved with openness, vulnerability, a giving heart, getting involved in the lives and joys of others.
My therapist wanted to get the focus off of me, effectively muting the eating disorder voice. In the same way, the holidays offer a wonderful opportunity to shift the focus from food-and-guilt-centered gatherings, to giving back and making the season about more than the stress.
Remembering Those who Are Forgotten
The holiday season is a wonderful time to remind ourselves that there are so many people, both in our communities and around the world, who are less fortunate than we are. They may have no presents to give or receive, no family to speak of, they may be homeless, suffering persecution or violence, bankrupt, or struggling with some other form of spiritual, emotional or financial poverty.
There are many whom our society has forgotten, whose families, friends or spouses have given up on them. This holiday season can be a time when we remember them, and we climb out of our own heads to give of our time, our resources, and our prayers to those who are struggling.
Giving for Recovery
Being intentional about giving during the holidays is a remarkably effective way to recover some of the fulfillment of the season. It can be a wonderful way to both shift the focus from food, bodies, the stress and anxiety, and toward doing good toward our fellow human beings.
The human condition is one filled with brokenness and loss – but when people from all walks of life come together, share their stories, and open their hearts, tremendous healing and relief begins. Recovery can be fueled by the salve provided by service and bonding with our fellow man.
Those whom we serve are in turn strengthened by what we can offer, whether it be gifts of time, love, or resources.
Defining Our Own Holidays
Just as we can choose to define beauty and body on our own terms, we can also define the holidays on our own terms. This holiday, focus on relationships, not the food. Be intentional about giving back:
- Volunteer for a service event
- Get out in your community
- Use your hands
- Give to your favorite charity rather than spending more money on extravagant gifts to win the approval of others
The joy of the season comes from pouring ourselves out, not walling ourselves in. Be present, be thankful, and the fruit will be peace – not just this holiday season, but all year long.
Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What are ways that you give the gifts of time, love or resources with others during the holiday season?
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 18th, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com