An Easter survival plan for eating disorder sufferers
It’s that time of year again when chocolate Easter eggs are in abundance and food offers for the Easter long weekend celebrations are everywhere, but fear not! Helping and supporting those with eating disorders from a psychological perspective using a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, professional experience, as well as close personal experience, I have brought together some tips for surviving the long Easter weekend.
Look after number one!
Remember your own self-care during this challenging time. You will have enough anxiety and things going on, so ensure that you are kind to yourself by taming your inner voice. This means talking calmly to yourself, speaking to yourself as you would speak to others and remembering to tell yourself those positive affirmations – “I am good enough”, “I deserve to enjoy the celebrations too”, “If I have a slip-up, it doesn’t matter, it’s Easter”.
Feel good about yourself
Dress to impress, as they say! Dress in clothes that fit well, look good and are comfortable. Dress in the way you love, regardless of your shape or size. Dressing up, rather than down, will make you feel good about yourself, recover your self-esteem and you should start to feel more confident.
Stick to your usual routine
Aim to follow your usual routine as much as possible over the Easter period, especially with regard to mealtimes. This will minimise your potential to become overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, drift into negative thought cycles and potentially make chaotic food choices.
Try introducing some mindful eating into your mealtime routine: eat slowly to really engage with the eating process, notice what you are eating, where did the food originate from? Engage your five senses with the food – does it look appealing or unappealing, how does the texture feel in your mouth, how does it smell, does it have a crunchy sound, how does it taste? Mindfulness helps you to notice that you have eaten, helps you to enjoy the food and to better gauge when you are full.
Acknowledge that it is OK to have some of the more indulgent Easter food – allow yourself them if you want them and be OK with this decision. Remember, a balanced approach can help you to avoid overeating.
Have a shopping list and stick to it as much as possible! Avoid temptation by sticking to the outside aisles, as this is where the healthier foods usually are – fruit, bread, delicatessen, dairy.
Try to keep your head down, avert your gaze and keep walking whilst counting to ten when passing aisle ends in the supermarket, as this is where the majority of food offers usually are displayed. Similarly, when you enter the shop, if you are presented with a stack of Easter eggs just inside the doorway, then put your head down, avert your gaze and keep walking whilst counting.
Stock up on healthier snacks, if you find this helps (nuts, cereal bars, fruit, dried fruit, yoghurts, carrot sticks etc).
Dealing with unwanted and unhelpful comments and questions
If you have friends and family around and you find yourself becoming overwhelmed with their unwanted probing questioning, then remember your self-care in this, and say to them that you don’t wish to answer their question(s) right now. They should get the hint and may even respect your honesty!
Assertiveness techniques can be effective for those unhelpful comments and questions too. Try saying to the other person how they are making you feel and state your needs – for example, “When you ask me this, you make me feel sad and I need you to just listen and be there for me, right now”. Ensure that you listen to and respect their views throughout. Assertiveness can help to avoid conflicts.
If it all becomes too much, then walk away and distract yourself with something else.
Dealing with anxiety and negativity
If you find anxiety and negativity creeping in, minimise these with two minutes of deep breathing – breathe in for the count of five and out for the count of seven.
Try carrying out muscle relaxation techniques - tense all of the muscles in your body starting at your feet and working upwards to your head – hold the tensing for five seconds and then relax.
Try writing down any negative thoughts and ask yourself if you can do anything about these – if the answer is ‘No’ then try distracting yourself with something that you enjoy; if the answer is ‘Yes’ then either take immediate action or write an action plan for a later date/time.
Take the focus off food
Have fun over the Easter period and take the focus off food as much as possible. Go for walks, get artistic, read, write down how you are feeling, write some poetry, think about your strengths – what do others see in you and make a list of these, engage with friends and family, do things you enjoy - those things you’ve been meaning to do but never seem to have enough time to do!
Introduce some mindfulness into your day so you are really able to notice what is going on around you and appreciate life – the sights, smells and sounds – notice your breathing and that nothing else matters in this moment.
If things have gone to plan and/or you have achieved something over the Easter weekend, then make sure you reward yourself for your efforts! Choose things that are non-food related – buy a book or a magazine, have a candlelit bath, have a coffee, put on your favourite music, buy some clothing or jewellery, buy a plant or some flowers. Above all, celebrate your success with something you love!
Have an Easter egg if you want one!
Most importantly, don’t deny yourself an Easter egg – it’s Easter – give yourself permission to have one, if you want one, and enjoy it!
Try not to restrict your food over the Easter weekend, otherwise you will just crave what you haven’t allowed yourself to have and, in turn, you will probably eat more of this food, or any food, than you normally would have done or would have liked to do. This comes from our ‘caveman survival instinct’. When times were hard and food was scarce for the caveman, the body was programmed to stock up on food and gorge when it was available!
Eat regularly throughout the day so as to maintain your blood sugar levels and to avoid overeating.
Finally, remember that the Easter weekend is only a few days long and it will pass before you know it, so if you can, try to enjoy the time.