As a psychologist specializing in eating, weight and fitness issues, the holiday season is a particularly busy time. People come to me seeking help with what they perceive as the downside of the holidays. My job is to help them make changes so that they can enjoy the holiday season to the fullest without letting an eating disorder, unhealthy lifestyle or personality issue get in the way.
Every so often, I get to reconnect with former patients who have successfully conquered psychological barriers that had kept them from the happy lives they so desired. I asked Amy, a former bulimic, to recall what it was like for her during the holidays when she struggled with her eating disorder and compare that to her life today. Whether you struggle with bulimia, compulsive overeating or other food-related issues, you may see your own thinking and behavior in Amy's story. Here's what she had to say:
"Today, when the holidays approach, I think, 'I hope I get invited to lots of holiday parties this season! I want to meet new people, try all kinds of tasty delicacies, wear sparkly new outfits, laugh and dance and have a grand old time!'
"Twenty years ago, however, my feelings about the holidays were vastly different. I remember being overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. Back then, if I was invited to a party, I would spend endless time calculating how much food and calories I would allow myself to have at the party. I would plan out the portions, type of foods and the time I could eat in order to avoid losing control.
"Often, I would try to eat a ridiculously low number of calories as my limit for the night. That meant most of what was offered at the party was off-limits to me.
"Deep down I knew I didn't have enough willpower to stick to my plan because my plan always failed. I wanted to deny that another binge loomed ahead, but my mind and body knew better. I was preoccupied with questions about what kind of food would be served at the party, whether I should arrive late to the party and avoid eating, or whether I should just skip the party altogether. Plus, I had to work out like a maniac the day of the party.
"Needless to say, all that resisting and denying myself would backfire and I would find myself mentally and physically exhausted. I would finish the holidays feeling ugly, out of control, guilty and anxious over what had just happened.
"I missed out on a lot of good times. Today I see that an eating disorder has a life of its own while it robs you of your own life.
"Now, my decisions are based on more important criteria — my availability, my kid's schedule and, most importantly, my desire to be happily engaged in the holiday season!
"Now, I eat normally the day of a party. I usually exercise because I enjoy it — not because I have to. I choose holiday foods based on what appeals to me the most. Food is not the focus any more, so I don't keep track of how much I ate or didn't eat — there's no need to, because I don't feel deprived anymore.
"It's the holidays, for crying out loud! I'm going to enjoy myself! Anxiety has been replaced with joyfulness. I'm thankful that I made the decision years ago to let go of my dysfunctional way of life. I can't go back and redo the wasted holidays in the past, but look at how many I've fully enjoyed since getting my priorities straight! And, there are many more happy holidays to come.''
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.