Binge Eating Therapy

Going home for the holidays when you’re dealing with binge eating disorder or bulimia

During my first semester of grad school, right before  Thanksgiving break, my Human Development professor asked for a show of hands as to how many people were heading home for the holidays. After about half the class raised their hands, he looked at us and said, “Listen, I don’t care how long you’ve been in therapy, I don’t care how many years of 4 day a week Psychoanalysis you’ve done, I don’t care how many meditation retreats you’ve done, how many Shamanic journeys you’ve been on, how many sweat lodges you’ve been to, or how much family counseling you’ve done… because when you go home, no matter what you’ve been doing up to this point, you are going to be exactly the same person as you were when you lived with your family. You’ll be 12 years old again and you’ll feel it and you’ll behave that way… don’t worry. It’s normal and that’s just the way it is. Just be prepared.”

So, even if you love, love, love your family and they’re very supportive it’s still challenging to be home when you’re working toward recovery. Your internal roadmap, the way you negotiated life, was created in this environment. When you are outside of the environment, it’s a bit easier to change and revamp that roadmap. When you are back in, often your default settings are reactivated.

At your family’s house if you are staying there:

1.)Be prepared. Know that being at home will probably be a trigger.

2.)If your family is challenging, make sure that you have plans to get out of the house. Take walks, get outside their home and call support people, make plans with old friends to go see a movie.

3.)Have a task while you’re there. Have a book that you’re engrossed in, needlepoint or knitting that you’re working on, some kind of project (ie: grading papers if you’re a teacher) that you can be working on. Anything to give you a bit of an escape.

4.)If your family has a lot of triggering food there, make sure to get to a grocery store and have your own supply of food that feels safe.

5.)If there are times when you know that you binge (ie: the middle of the night when family is asleep) make sure that you have an action plan. Something that you might do is let a friend know that it’s a triggering time and call before you go to sleep and when you wake up (bookend your evenings). You might also attend an online OA meeting at night. You can do some meditation and relaxation techniques in bed to help you sleep and avoid bingeing.

6.)If you know that you binge with your family, you will probably need to assemble some big guns of support.Perhaps you can commit to a support person (or sponsor) outside of the family that you’re not going to binge with them and when they get into that mode, you can step outside and call your support person for a reinforcement.

You might tell your family that you’re not doing this anymore. I know that for many people, that is very hard. They feel as though they’re not being a team player or that they’re not being a part of the family if they don’t participate in the acting out with food or alcohol. But love isn’t about sharing in compulsive behavior. Choosing not to participate doesn’t mean you love your family any less. It’s about you taking care of yourself, and you might just inspire some members of your family to follow suit. Most people inherently want to be healthy, even though it’s hard. If they see you trying to be healthy, it might be easier for them to do the same.

Having your own non-binge foods on hand can help to keep you safe from a binge as well.

7.)If you know that it’s going to be too difficult both emotionally and for your ED, you might just opt to stay in a hotel or with an old friend.

At Holiday Dinner

1.)Stay away from heated conversations, such as politics, religion, why you have your eyebrow pierced, why you’re choosing to go to art school instead of business school, why your new boyfriend plays guitar in a death metal band and lives in garage… etc. etc. Of course it’s your prerogative to discuss anything that you want, but often, staying away from potentially emotionally triggering subjects while you are around potentially binge triggering food might be a good idea.

2.)Don’t drink too much alcohol. Keep yourself alert so that you can choose what you want to eat.

3.)Don’t let yourself get pressured or guilted into eating more than you want to. Even if your Aunt Zelda has spent the past 27 hours slaving over a hot oven to make your favorite 14 pies, you don’t have to eat anything that you don’t want.

4.)You are not responsible for someone who chooses to base their happiness on what you choose to do with your life. Remember that it is not your responsibility to make anyone happy. If someone bases their happiness on what you choose to do with your life and what you choose to eat, that is their choice. They can’t make you feel guilty for doing what you want to do with your life. We each are given our own lives and have the right to do with those lives what we want. Ultimately, it’s important to be kind, thoughtful and considerate. However, it’s unfair to live your life for someone else or to ask someone to live their life for you.

5.)If there are kids around, play with them! Kids can be fun and exhausting and exhilarating. They can also take you outside of the line of fire as well as snacks, appetizers, binge foods, triggering family feuds, etc.

As for the actual meal itself, check out my Thanksgiving post. It applies here as well.


Happy Holiday!

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