How To Survive January When You’re In Recovery From An Eating Disorder
Ah, January. Here it is once again, enveloping us with gloomy days to match our post-holiday mood. Reflect on most major women’s magazines, tv ads or social media influencer’s material at this time of year and you’ll be left without doubt: January is a month in which we ought to despise ourselves. We must repent for our gluttonous, alcohol sodden sins by embarking on a journey of self-flagellation by way of punishing diet regimes and detox teas designed to make us shit ourselves to thinness. This month has been co-opted into the myth of our consumer culture and become synonymous as the first step for many in an ever-perpetuating cycle of self-hatred. At this time of year when the most self-assured of us are feeling pangs of guilt, spare a thought for those in the grip of, or recovering from, an eating disorder.
For many, short-lived participation in post-holiday body fascism ends gladly on the 12th, fondly known as ‘Quitter’s Day’, when most resolutions will come to a spectacular end by being drowned in a gallon of red wine or smothered to death by chocolate. Yet, for the estimated 1.25 million people in the UK who have an eating disorder, it can be a more emotionally fraught time of year than any other. The same goes for the unknown number of us living in recovery.
Whilst the festive period can be fraught with respect to the emphasis on excessive consumption that it holds, January presents a whole new challenge. It takes a great deal of mental resilience to filter out the negative messaging that we are subjected to from those who seek to profit from our guilt, telling us that we are right to hate ourselves and glorifying the compulsion to count calories, pursue damaging diet plans and spend hours sweating in the gym.
Speaking from my own experience, it can be an incredibly triggering time of year. Having had a six- year struggle to break the back of my own eating disorder, I finally did so at the age of 21. I am proud to say that, in the four years that have passed, I have not succumbed to bulimia again, despite having the overwhelming urge to on numerous occasions. None more so than in the month of January, when I have previously chastised myself for weight gained over the holiday period.
Fundamental to the genesis of an eating disorder is the concept of control. Whilst societal standards equating beauty with thinness undoubtedly influence an individual, a major factor in developing an eating disorder can be an unconscious desire to gain control of your life. You may not be able to control the way others behave, or what the future holds, but you can control what you consume.
It is for this reason that January and the idea of New Year’s resolutions can become particularly tricky. Seeking order in the chaos of life, setting goals and mapping out how to achieve your dreams should of course be celebrated. Yet these things should not focus on your weight or appearance. I can tell you first hand that, in all likelihood, you won’t be happier by achieving thinness, because it will never be enough. You can, however, feel happier by focusing on other aspects of your life: the cultivation and sustenance of good mental health, the quality of your friendships, or building the career you’ve always dreamed of. Do not value your worth according to the numbers on the scales; value yourself instead for the way you can shower yourself with love and acknowledge all of the beautiful qualities that make you unique. Allow this January to be the one in which you give yourself permission to nurture yourself. Do the things you have always wanted to do: learn a new language, take up jujitsu, read that stack of books you’ve had piled at the foot of your bed for months. Don’t set yourself a weight loss goal that will result in a torturous battle with your own body. Do remind yourself of everything you have overcome to be here today. Be kind to yourself and believe in your own strength.
With all this in mind, I hope that the pointers below can help you to navigate the coming month and all those in the year ahead.
If you’re seriously struggling, try and get yourself to a therapist. UK mental health charity Mind has a brilliant guide to different types of therapy available and how to access them for anyone is unsure where to start.
Alternatively, speak to a trusted friend or relative. Voicing negative feelings will help to alleviate the pressure they present and make you less likely to act on them.
It may sound daunting, but it is important to communicate to others how their own behaviour might affect you. I have previously asked friends and family members not to talk to me about their diets in front of me or comment on my weight because it’s not something I want to think about. Boundaries are not selfish; they are an act of self-preservation.
Unfollow or block anyone who is promoting an unhealthy fixation on weight, food and exercise. This includes any ‘thinspiration’ accounts, those that offer advice on calorie counting and any that reference ‘clean eating’. Food is nourishment and should not viewed through a lens of judgment as being inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Secondly, follow accounts that promote a healthy approach to bodies, eating and exercise, such as Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda), Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial) and the I Weigh movement (@i_weigh) and Christie Begnell (@meandmyed.art). Surround yourself with positivity.
Also, remember to take a break whenever you can. Unhealthy ads can pop up out of nowhere, and no one needs that.
Journaling is an incredibly cathartic act. Whether you pick up a pen to dissect negative thoughts you’ve been having, reflect on the progress you’ve made in terms of thinking positively about yourself, or write positive affirmations, it can be incredibly helpful.
Spend time in nature
Wrap up warm, leave your phone at home and take yourself for a walk. Allow yourself to slow down, clear your head and breathe in time with the trees. The gentle exercise will leave you feeling refreshed and the time spent with nature can be a valuable tool for thinking about your own strength and regeneration for the year ahead.
Article By Eleanor Harrison