“Freedom lies in being bold.” –Robert Frost
Are you headed to a picnic over the upcoming holiday weekend? Or going home for a family BBQ? Or aiming to enjoy a potluck dinner with friends to watch the fireworks? No matter your plans, if you’ve ever struggled with an eating disorder, Fourth of July festivities may present particular challenges. Will you eat enough? Will you eat “too much?” How will it feel to be around family or friends? And how will the experience impact your thoughts or behaviors?
The holidays can certainly be hard (and sometimes quite complicated), but they are also an opportunity to take stock of how you’re doing with recovery and to take bold strides in freeing yourself more fully from your symptoms. After all, what better occasion to work on gaining independence from your eating disorder than Independence Day itself?
To fight for or celebrate your freedom from illness this Fourth of July, consider the following strategies:
- Devise a battle plan. Take some time, in advance, to think through what your day is likely to look like. This will allow you to anticipate the parts of the day that might be the most difficult. Once you have a general outline, consider creating more specific plans for how you might deal with challenging situations that you anticipate (like portioning food at a buffet, or eating with others). Who in your support network might be able to help you? And how? What can you do to best help yourself? Are there motivational reminders you can tell yourself if you’re tempted in the direction of eating disordered behaviors?
- Stick to your regular eating pattern, with modest adjustments if needed. Whether your day will involve a daylong trip, a mid-day meal with family or a night out with friends, aim to stick to the meal pattern that works best to keep you well-nourished and to minimize the risk of binge eating—three meals, two to three snacks. Depending on the timing and type of your social plans, it might make sense for certain meals or snacks to be smaller or larger than usual, but it’s important not to “save up” for anticipated eating occasions occurring later in the day.
- Set clear, measurable goals. If you tend to underdo it with food, your goals might include trying a little bit of every food served at a BBQ or picnic, finishing your plate, or eating a few bites more than you think you need. If you tend to overdo it with food at holiday gatherings, you might set your sights on picking the best-looking dessert from an array, or taking a break after finishing your plate to assess your hunger level before going back for more food. Pick a goal that feels challenging but manageable.
- Quiet (or mute!) your inner critic. Holiday events can sometimes trigger negative beliefs that set an unhelpful or unhealthy chain of events in motion. For example, if you find yourself making unfavorable comparisons about appearance between yourself and your friends, you’re apt to feel lousy. For some, this can lead to overeating. For others, restricting. Why not try to turn down the volume on these types of thoughts for the day? Or, practice noticing the thought and then letting it go, gently bringing your awareness back to the present moment.
- Bring on the reinforcements. To reward your efforts over the holiday, identify a non-food positive reinforcement. Take yourself to see a holiday blockbuster, call a friend you’ve not spoken to in a while, or plan a visit to your favorite nearby park or beach.
Even if the day does not go entirely according to your plan, there are successes to be found in every recovery effort. Taking even a small step towards greater independence from your eating disorder is definitely something worth celebrating.