Ringing in the New Year…in a new way

In our culture, holidays can get idealized through marketing, media messages and product promotions.  Thanksgiving has a reputation for being all about the food…it is, after all, a celebratory “feast”.  Christmas (and Hanukkah to a lesser extent) often comes with pressure to engage in frenzied shopping and elaborate gift exchanges. And to round out the season, New Year’s Eve arrives with a cultural assumption that  everyone will be happily ringing in the new year with hefty resolutions for weight loss and a perpetually full glass of alcohol.

All of these holidays come with their own joys and challenges. The annual combination of drinking and diet pressures during NYE can be especially troublesome for individuals working on recovery considering the high rate of overlap between substance abuse and eating disorders

Approximately 50% of individuals with an eating disorder (ED) abuse or are dependent on alcohol or illicit substances compared with approximately 9% of the general population …

…Conversely, females who report alcohol problems and/or binge drinking were more likely to report recent ED symptoms

  Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2788663/

During the hard work of ED recovery, it can be very easy for individuals to fall into the trap of “symptom substitution”.  This occurs when someone is refraining from acting on their eating disorder symptoms but begins to engage in, or increases their reliance on, other unhealthy behaviors such as binge drinking, drug use or self-injury.  Individuals who struggle with an ED and alcoholism can encounter an especially slippery slope during holidays like NYE that promote and normalize heavy drinking.      

If you struggle with substance abuse and find yourself challenged by the idea of the alcohol-focused NYE celebration, or you’re worried about how it might affect your ED recovery, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and create a recovery-focused party plan.  Here are a few tips and ideas to get you started:

Explore your options.  If your friends are planning an evening of bar-hopping, drinking games or other events that are heavily dependent on alcohol, it might not be the best option for you this year.  Consider other outlets…do you have neighbors, co-workers, friends from your church or synagogue, siblings, cousins or other family members who will be getting together to celebrate?  Check in to see if they may have a more balanced celebration in mind and could be more supportive of your recovery efforts. You may need to look beyond your most immediate social network to find what you need.

You CAN have fun while in recovery from an eating disorder and substance abuse; don’t convince yourself otherwise. It can be tempting to assume that there are no options for an alcohol-free evening on New Year’s Eve, but resist the urge to isolate as an alternative.  Sitting at home by yourself watching the ball drop in Times Square might seem like the safe option now but could set you up for feelings of loneliness, depression and negative thoughts as you head into the new year.   Try, instead, to connect with at least one other person and plan something special like going to see a movie or a concert, or catch a comedy show. 

Identify a sober buddy. If you are looking forward to attending a NYE party and you know there will be alcohol there, find out if there is anyone else who will be abstaining from alcohol, and team up for support.  Don’t limit yourself to other people in recovery; consider your friend’s wife who is 6 months pregnant and not drinking, or your friend who is a nurse and has to leave the party to go straight to work at 2 am.  Create alliances to help safeguard your recovery.  At the very least, let your host or a good friend know in advance that you won’t be drinking so they can help alleviate any pressure to do so on the night of the event.

BYO.   Just because you are choosing to focus on recovery and may be abstaining from alcohol doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in the midnight toast. In fact, if you’ve been working hard on getting well and finding happiness outside of the eating disorder and/or alcoholism, you probably have a lot of reasons to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, and toast to the progress you’ve made thus far.  Pack your own bottle of sparkling cider and raise your glass in your own honor.

Fun alternatives. If recovery-focused plans fall through or just don’t seem to be coming together, consider some creative alternatives like offering to babysit your nieces and nephews or a bunch of the neighborhood kids.  Put your energy into creating a fun, kid-centric New Year’s Eve celebration for them that you can enjoy too.   Think silly string, noise makers, confetti and some glittery dress-up outfits from the thrift store.

Safety First.  Even if you don’t struggle with substance abuse, but you know you will be drinking on NYE, aim for moderation and be sure that you have a safe travel plan in place.  Either stay-the-night at your host’s house or arrange for a trustworthy designated driver. You can also look into public services in your city that offer free rides home on NYE.  If you’re in the Baltimore area you can call  877-963-Taxi to take advantage of the Tipsy? Taxi!

#DitchingDieting  Be prepared to be bombarded with new year’s resolutions and people’s new diet plans in the weeks that follow.  In an attempt to balance those triggering and unhealthy messages, set up a system in advance to expose yourself to more accurate information about dieting and engage in a body-positive community.  If you’re on Twitter, follow the hash tag #DitchingDieting, and learn more about the toxic diet culture in this post, Dare to Resolve to Ditch Dieting  from Adios Barbie. 

As the year comes to a close, remember that your recovery, your happiness  and your well-being is worth more than a few hours of partying on New Year’s Eve.  Try something new this year by allowing yourself the time and space to celebrate in a way that is safe and supportive of your emotional growth and your current stage of recovery.  Strive to be mindful and present as you welcome in a year of gratitude, positivity, strength and confidence.

Happy New Year from The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt!   




What’s in your suitcase? Packing list for a recovery-focused holiday weekend

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Given all of the traveling, family gatherings, food and high expectations that are associated with the holidays, it’s no surprise that celebrations can be simultaneously stressful and joyful.  If you take care of yourself and find balance within the two experiences, you can usually come out on the other side of a holiday weekend with lots of memories of joy and little recollection of everything that had you totally stressed out.  But when you’re working on recovery from an eating disorder(ED), the stress of holiday times can feel overwhelming, which can be quite  triggering, even in the midst of what could be very joyful traditions for everyone else. That being said, an important part of recovery from an eating disorder involves learning to navigate the stress of the holidays and traveling without turning to the ED symptoms.

We were inspired by all of the wonderful sharing on this topic in our weekly support group one week and decided to put together a last-minute packing list  for your holiday travels.  If black bag - chokphotoyou’re headed out of town, consider using this checklist to make sure your suitcase is full of the recovery tools.  If you’re hosting or staying home this holiday, grab the proverbial suitcase anyway and keep some of these things on hand for a healthy, joyful holiday celebration.

Don’t leave home without…

1. Your Motivation.  If you’ve ever written a list of all the reasons why recovery is important to you, make a copy and keep it someplace where you will see it repeatedly over the holiday.  If you’ve never made one of these lists, grab a pencil and get started.  Each time you make it through a triggering moment without acting on symptoms you can put a star next to one of the items on your list for positive reinforcement that you are moving away from the ED and towards the things in life that matter most to you.

2. Your cell phone. Its true, most people don’t go anywhere without their phone these days but if you’re away from your primary support people and your not seeing your treatment providers this week, you phone can become your lifeline.   Have several people identified in advance that you can call if things get overwhelming or you simply need to do some reality checking and get outside of your own head.  Talk to them ahead of time to confirm that they will be available to answer your call or return a text during the holiday.  Don’t forget your phone charger.

3. Comfy, cooperative clothes that show off your style but also feel good on your body the way it is right now. If you’re stuck out-of-town or at a party with clothes that don’t fit well, aren’t comfortable, or make you self-conscious, you may be setting yourself up for physical sensations and/or thoughts that are triggering. It’s very easy to be distracted by negative body image thoughts when you could be having fun, catching up with old friends or simply relaxing. Don’t sabotage yourself in advance by packing a wardrobe for the eating disorder. Remember – clothes should fit to your body, not the other way around.     

4. Playing cards, word games or MadLibs – If things are tense or awkward you’re feeling like too much attention is on you or your eating disorder, be ready with an activity that can serve as a distraction.  You’ll be surprised how quickly everyone, you included, starts focusing on verbs  and adjectives instead of the ED when invited to join in a game of MadLibs.

5. Healthy Boundaries. Many people you see or spend time with around the holidays may not know that you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or even understand what that means.  If you are put in charge of a holiday task or invited to participate in something that is not in your best interest or puts your recovery at risk, don’t be afraid to say no – you have the right to do that.  If your cousin is joining a gym as part of her summer plan and keeps begging you to come along with her for moral support, find a way to let her know that at this time the gym would not be a healthy place for you.  You could add that you support her in her efforts toward better health and hope she can understand and support you in your efforts too.

6. Your pet. Not only do they offer unconditional affection and a great distraction, but they  can also set a good example for balance and structure during the holidays.  Everyone else might be stressed, overwhelmed, or irritable, but Fido still needs to eat, drink, get fresh air and sleep the same as any other day.  Follow his lead, just make sure you’ve okayed the furry visitor with your hosts.

7. A sense of humor, perhaps obvious, but it truly can offer a way to manage your own stress and de-stress everyone around you.

8. Your old standbys. If you have coping skills or items that consistently help you on a daily basis don’t take a vacation from what works. These types of things might include:

  • an iPod with a motivational playlist
  • your journal
  • positive affirmations
  • deep breathing techniques or meditation tools
  • painting or drawing supplies
  • Recovery-focused books like “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer and “Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder” by Johanna Kandel.

What other essential coping techniques or stress-relief strategies will you be packing for the holidays?  Share your ideas on our Facebook page.

You may also be interested in these posts:

Top photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and chokphoto



20 Ways to Celebrate “International No Diet Day”

Today is the 9th annual International No Diet Day (INDD).  The campaign was started in 1992 by an author in Britain who had gone through her own recovery from anorexia. What started as a gathering in her living room has grown into a celebration of beauty and health across the globe.

Here are 20 ways you can get involved with the international celebration of INDD…

1. The obvious: Take the No Diet Pledge (Don’t forget to print it out as a reminder.)

2. Review the facts.  Dieting rarely works. 95% of all dieters regain their lost weight and more within 1 to 5 years.

3. Do some research.  Next time you see a diet ad, read the extra fine print under the before/after pictures.

4. Throw out your scale.  While physically chucking that bathroom scale out a second-story window and watching it break into pieces below sounds exciting, there are obvious risks with that tactic.  Consider these alternative methods:

  • Donate it to a thrift store (bonus = tax write-off for donations!)
  • Hand it over at your next therapy or nutrition appointment
  • Wait by the road on trash day and hand it directly to your Garbage Collector

5. Use the money you planned to spend on diet products to get a massage, visit a museum,  send a gift to an out-of-town friend, OR deposit it in a savings account.  We promise it will be more fulfilling.

6. Check out some of our favorite websites and bloggers that advocate a non-diet approach to healthy living for people of every size.

7. Recycle any weight-loss magazines or diet cookbooks.  Get creative and turn them into crafts, rip-out the pages and use them as packing paper for breakables.  Or simply thrown them in the recycling bin.

8. Better yet: cancel any ongoing subscriptions to diet-laden publications.

9. Do a spring cleaning of your closet.  Donate clothes that don’t fit or don’t make you feel good in your body.  Remember,clothes are meant to fit your body, not the other way around.

10. Start living.  Do the thing you’ve been putting off until you lose X pounds. Go to the beach, take a salsa dancing lesson, go mountain climbing.

11. Reach out for support. If chronic dieting and an intense focus on weight loss has led to serious problems with eating disorders, dangerous weight-loss attempts or feelings of depression,  seek professional help.  (Not sure if you really need help?  You can start with this confidential, self-assessment quiz to find out).

12. Are you a parent, pediatrician, educator or childcare provider?  Help cultivate a new generation of non-dieters by teaching children to be competent eaters from the start.  Check out these great feeding resources:

13. Make a list of 10 positive things your body does for you. Hang it on your mirror.

14. Wear something you love and feel comfortable in

15. Spread the word. Copy the picture above and post to your Facebook profile.

16. Connect to nature.  Find some beautiful scenery, sit, relax and be inspired by the natural ability of living things to nourish themselves without external cues from diet companies.   You have the same ability.

17. Feeling crafty? Instead of trashing the bathroom scale, consider taking it apart and turning it into an art project representing your freedom from dieting.  (Side note: If you do this, PLEASE send us a pic and we will post on our facebook page!)

18. Compliment a friend on a quality not related to appearance OR tell someone you love what makes them beautiful without using words that describe body size, weight or appearance.

19. Add up all of the time you usually spend weighing yourself, counting calories, reading weight-loss articles, feeling badly about your body, or thinking about food.  Make a list of all the things you’d rather be doing with that time.  Start doing them.

20. Keep on going.  Just in case 20 ideas wasn’t enough for you, here’s a list of “50 Ways to Lose the 3 Ds: Dieting, Drive for Thinness, and Body Dissatisfaction” from The National Eating Disorders Association.

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt fully supports the goals and values of International No Diet Day on May 6th and all year long.   We hope you have a chance to try at least one of the ideas today, but remember that they don’t expire.   These 20 ideas represent steps you can take at any time to start changing your relationship with food and weight.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit our website at www.eatingdisorder.org or call us at (410) 938-5252 for information about treatment and support.

The Resolution Solution

The end of a calendar year brings with it endless conversations of new year’s resolutions.  Setting these notoriously lofty goals is often an attempt to pull oneself out of the seasonal funk that can settle in with shorter days, colder weather and a barrage of holiday stressors.  When people make resolutions, it is often done with the intent to completely overhaul their life.  They look to make a sweeping change that will fix all that is wrong, and get them back on the “right track”.  Unfortunately, this particular type of goal setting usually backfires – as evidenced by the fact that most people end up making the same exact resolutions year after year.

New year’s resolutions also send a message that today doesn’t count – it gives us permission to stay unhappy or unhealthy “just a little bit longer” until January 1st rolls around. This could mean different things for different people depending on whether you are working towards recovery from an eating disorder, still struggle with chronic yo-yo dieting or are trying to quit smoking.  So, how do you pull yourself out of the winter blues without jumping on the resolution bandwagon?  Here are a few ideas to get you started…

1.  Don’t wait.  Start making small adjustments today that have nothing to do with food, eating, or your weight. Creating small but positive disruptions in your daily routine can help you stay grounded and may even help to break a cycle of negative thoughts or eating disorder symptoms that are associated with certain places or a time of day.

  • Try taking a different route to work or school.  This small change could open up new possibilities, even if its just observing the new scenery or discovering a park along the way that you never knew existed!  Who knows, you may even find out that your new detour involves less traffic or fewer lights.
  • Do some interior designing.  Consider rearranging some furniture or updating a picture wall inside your house or apartment.  Visible changes such as these can offer a sense of renewal without the obligation or pressure.
  • These are just a few examples…you can come up with your own ideas for “minor adjustments” and share them on our Facebook page.

2. Setting goals is a great thing but not if the goal is unrealistic, unhealthy, too vague, or involves intense pressure to succeed.  All of these characteristics can make it very difficult to follow through with a resolution.  Instead, focus on taking small, concrete steps forward in the direction of balanced living.

  • If you tend to make resolutions that are unrealistic and unhealthy…“I have to get myself to the gym.  I’m going to purchase a membership and force myself to go everyday, no matter what.”
    • Try this instead: “I will commit to going to one or two community yoga classes by the end of the month and work on developing a positive and supportive relationship with my body.”
  • If you tend to make resolutions that are vague and counterproductive… “I need to lose weight by the summer so I’m really going to stick to my diet this year!”
    • Try this instead: “I give myself permission to stop dieting and to trust my body. If I need the help of a professional nutritionist to do this, I will seek one out.”
  • If you tend to make resolutions that leave no room for error and put a lot of pressure on you to succeed…“As of January 1st, I am never going to act on my eating disorder symptoms again.”
    • Try this instead: “Before the week is over, I will call and schedule an appointment to begin seeing a therapist.” This is an example of a small but very meaningful task that can result in long-term change.  If you already see a therapist, consider this instead: “In the next week, I will use at least one new support or coping skill that I’ve never tried before.” Examples include: attending a support group, journaling, or enrolling in art therapy.

3. Now that you’ve resolved NOT to make a resolution, how are you going to cope with everybody else who feels inclined to talk about resolutions, weight loss and diets all of the time?

  • Be the bearer of accurate news.  When your friends start discussing the new diet they will begin on January 1st, inform them about why diets don’t work and be sure to let them know that 98% of the people who go on diets gain all of the weight back and that half of them gain back more than they lost.
  • Try out the “shock and awe” technique. As others start to bemoan their hips and curse their thighs while resolving to change their bodies in the new year, employ the element of surprise – say something  NICE about yourself and your body. Body bashing has become such an accepted form of conversation (especially around the holidays) that when someone (You!) is able to reflect positively on their own body, people are seriously caught off guard and may think twice about their own statements.  Try one of the comments below or come up with a few of your own!
    • “I am so grateful for all of the things my body allows me to accomplish.”
    • “I’m much more concerned about feeling strong and healthy than I am about fitting into a particular size.”
    • Even if you are not at a point in your life, or in recovery, where you actually believe these statements, say them anyway.  Saying them out loud helps move you in the right direction toward real change.  You will not only have helped yourself, but you will steer the conversation away from a negative place and become a role model for positive body image.  This is particularly important if children and adolescents are within earshot of the conversation.

Here’s to a hopeful 2011 full of balance and mindfulness!

If you have any questions about eating disorders, please call our admissions coordinators at (410) 938-5252 to speak confidentially about your concerns and treatment options.  Additionally, you can visit our website at www.eatingdisorder.org for more information, including an interactive on-line quiz that can help determine whether you, or someone you care about, might have an eating disorder that requires professional treatment.