The Fourth of July may bring thoughts of travel, parties, and outdoor fun in the sun for many, but for those in recovery from an eating disorder, the act of celebrating or vacationing is often a source of stress. But freedom from the eating disorder is possible – even during BBQs, summertime fun and travel, and the Fourth of July.
Recovery From an Eating Disorder Can Be Challenging During Summer Events or Holidays
Independence Day is a day many often travel, gather outside, swim, eat with friends and family and celebrate. However, an individual in recovery from an eating disorder may experience increased anxiety or even panic around the Fourth of July and other summer events. It is difficult to celebrate freedom when trapped in the bonds of an eating disorder. More so, it can be a time when recovery is challenged.
How do I know?
Many years ago, I spent the Fourth of July in a treatment center for eating disorders. Rather than celebrating, I listened to the distant fireworks from my hospital room.
While I was in treatment, I spent my time worrying about the upcoming discharge and terrified about how I would navigate the world without the eating disorder. While others were decerebrating our Nation’s freedom, I desperately wanted to find freedom from the eating disorder. The fear of facing life and the world without that freedom was intense and terrifying.
Now, each summer brings a reminder and appreciation of the freedom I have without the confines of the eating disorder. And you can have that too.
What Does Freedom From the Eating Disorder Look Like?
It took time, but now for me, the week of the Fourth is a week where we gather and celebrate my son’s birthday and I appreciate the joy of seeing family come together. The week is spent celebrating the holiday with my family, my son’s birthday, and taking home the blue ribbon in the dog parade. We end the week with a large family reunion surrounded by love, hugs, and stories of old and new, and of course lots of good food.
This not only provided me with a chance to be grateful for living in a recovered world with FREEDOM from an eating disorder but also prompted me to think of the challenges in obtaining this kind of freedom. For example, when you are in treatment or in early recovery, it is important to be prepared for these events (such as parties, vacations, dates, etc.) so that you are not ill-equipped for the struggles that you may face.
So here’s my advice on how to work towards a healthier life, free of an eating disorder while preparing to go on vacation, to a party, or just hang out with friends.
#1: Plan Ahead
You have probably heard this before; however, this step to plan ahead can often be lost in the midst of packing, preparing, and planning. Just like any other day, make sure that you pack snacks for the road (if you are traveling) and other times that food may not be available when you get hungry. Additionally, if you are following a meal plan, have something prepared to eat so you stay on track. If your vacation or event will require additional walking or other activity, discuss this with your dietitian. Your meal plan may need adjusting to account for the activity or you may need to discuss how this will affect your hunger cues.
#2: Use Vacations and Parties as an Opportunity to Challenge Yourself
As a dietitian and therapist, I listen to clients discuss the stress and anxiety they feel as the summer approaches. To them, summer means the uncontrolled food environment, eating out with people, and eating at homes with parties.
To help you cope, let’s put this into perspective.
Let’s say that you eat three meals and a couple of snacks during the day, when you are eating differently on vacation, on holidays, or on special occasions, it really only varies your intake by less than 10% over the course of one year.
This is the flexible part of recovery and the flexible part of life. Embrace it!
Vacations, parties, and get-togethers can be the perfect opportunity for you to try something you have not had before or something you have been scared to try, just like the time I tried Beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans for the very first time! The challenge could be eating something that somebody has prepared in their home or eating at a new restaurant.
Make sure you go into the challenge with a relaxed mind and body.
#3: Use Your Support System
When you are getting ready to go to a party, on vacation, or just over to a friend’s house, remember to discuss any worries that you may have with your support system or treatment team so that you can develop a roadmap for success. Additionally, talk to others in your support system about the best ways they can help you throughout that party or trip. Let them know what you are worried about and how they can best help you. That is literally why they are there.
#4: Develop, Practice, and Use Coping Skills Before You Go
What are your favorite coping skills? Use your coping skills to help you deal with pressure, stress, your anxieties. You can wear a favorite outfit, or even bring a few activities with you. Do you like to color or play games? Bring your favorite music, or (if you are traveling) a journal, and explore other activities in the area.
Make sure to participate in activities that you enjoy doing. When traveling, if you have trouble thinking of things that you do enjoy, just explore! Part of recovery is about discovering things you enjoy doing without the eating disorder.
If you are at a party, participate in the activities you enjoy. Maybe you just want to sit quietly and observe – that’s OK too! Whatever you decide, avoid doing things that make you uncomfortable. Remember, when you are at a party and you are no longer enjoying yourself, you can always simply leave.
#5: Be Gracious With Yourself
Be gracious with yourself. Remember that parties and vacations are a difficult part of the recovery process for many individuals with an eating disorder. If you have a slip, use it as a learning experience and pick up right where you left off. Do not wait until you get back or the following day. Vacations and parties are an opportunity to have fun, relax, explore new things, and practice recovery strategies. They do NOT have to be perfect! After all, recovery is a process.
And remember, slip-ups happen. Reset right then and there, and shake it off. You can do this.
One final reminder, relay your experiences and anything that you have learned from your party or trip to your therapist and dietitian on your next session. They can help you to learn and grow from your experiences.
Do You or Someone You Know Have an Eating Disorder? Help is Available – You Are Not Alone!
If you believe you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, a joy-filled life is possible. We can work one-on-one with you to make that life a reality. We believe in living a fully recovered life. Our team of specialists will develop a personalized treatment plan for you/your loved one. Contact us today … You are not alone in this battle!