Nothing Personal: Eating Disorders & Christmas

So far, I haven’t thrown the Christmas tree out the window, but I feel if one more inappropriate comment is made at a holiday party/festivity, a certain sidewalk could possibly look a bit merrier.

“It’s nothing personal.” It’s a well-worn phrase, sometimes used as a dismissive slight, just to get a dig in.

Unfortunately, in the context of holiday parties, this personal minefield, be it in the form of a question or comment, can wreak some extremely sensitive havoc in our lives, especially those of us who are in recovery from eating disorders. Be it a personal question or a personal comment, the impact is still destructive and can tempt the best of us to look for the nearest Christmas tree to launch out of the nearest portal.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue:
and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
Proverbs 18:21


Some people out there may think I’ve completely lost my sense of humor. Can I be honest here? I think those are often the people who find “fat jokes,” for example, extremely funny. Laughing at someone who’s struggling- hilarious.

Nevertheless, as someone in recovery from eating disorders, the holidays can be a touchy and downright miserable situation to be in, when a person asks or comments about food or body image issues; it’s triggering. A few examples…

Years ago, as I was in the middle of anorexia, family members applauded my weight loss. They’d only known me as overweight. So, upon seeing my radically thin frame, they commented, “You look so great, so thin! Are you dieting?”

(My internal response: “No, just killing myself.” You can see how that, as an audible response MIGHT be a downer).

So, I said nothing.

Still, the uncomfortable words were out there. And thin praise-y comments do nothing great for someone struggling with an eating disorder. Nothing. If anything, they spur someone on further, to do something more drastic: more cutting of calories, more hours of exercise, more, more, more.

So, Merry Christmas here.

Another situation involved me, all eating disordered out, only this time, it was bulimia. And this time, I was gaining weight, which, to “everyone” looked like healthy progress from my once emaciated anorexic self. Again, family (wonderful family) chose to say the following: “I’m so glad you’re eating. You’re gaining weight and you look so much better.”

Now, how exactly am I supposed to take that when my personal mindset sees only horrible, disgusting failure?

(Again, my internal, non-audible response: “Yeah, I bet you’re happy. You just want be to be overweight again.”)

What was my actual response? Silence. And looking for the nearest exit.

Again, Merry Christmas.

Okay, so these two examples were of a time when I was extremely pro-eating disorder. Years later, however, into my recovery, I’ve become honest and open with its reality. John 8:32 has certainly been a freeing scripture for me:

“The truth shall set you free.”

However, if I could offer any “outsider” some friendly party conversation advice, I’d say this: let the individual who’s challenged by the disorder mention it first.
And that brings me to yet another festive situation. At a family party, someone’s spouse mentioned the buffet layout of the event. He only knew a little of my eating disorder reality.

But, I guess, in his mind, it was enough information for him to make the following statement: “We don’t have to worry about you plowing through all of the food, now, do we?”

(Felt like a red and green flamethrower to the gut Ho. Ho. Ho).

But my external response? I laughed nervously and tried to make a quick getaway for the rest of the evening.

You may be thinking things like “You’re being too sensitive,” “Get over it,” “Get a sense of humor.” And, to that, I respond this way…

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:13

We never know what someone is grappling with. And the holidays amplify EVERYTHING, including our painful issues.

So, perhaps, a rule of thumb would be to keep the chitchat light, kind and not personal.

Please avoid talking about how much of a whale you feel you are, how your diet is going and how fattening the event’s food is.

Please also refrain from specifically commenting on our body size and appearance, whether weight loss or weight gain is evident. You can say, “You look great” and leave it at that. Anything more, sets our minds reeling with self-critical, competitive, defeating thoughts which go nowhere healthy.

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9

And yes, for those of us prone to triggers, here’s some most valuable advice from the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC):

    Predict high stress times and places; decide which events you will and won’t attend, and plan to have some time to yourself to restore yourself and take care of your own needs.

    Predict which people might make you most uncomfortable and plan appropriate ways of excusing yourself from their company.

    Predict what people might say that would lead you to feel uncomfortable. Plan and practice responses.

    Predict negative thoughts that you might have during the holidays, and practice thinking differently.

    Carry with you a list of phone numbers of friends and crisis lines, and a list of self-soothing activities.

    It may be helpful to realize that the ‘picture-book’ holiday sense is not a reality for many people. Some cannot afford it, there are many single people who are not close to their families or do not have a family, and there are many families that do not fit into the dominant cultural model of ‘family.’ Do not blame yourself for family or friendship conflicts. People are not different during the holidays than any other time of the year.”
    For more info:
    NEDIC Bulletin: Vol. 7, Coping With the Holidays ; National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) Used with permission.

Let’s be merry, thoughtful and kind. Let’s honor the Savior by choosing to act like Him!

God bless, be healthy, loved and happy, everyone!