Strategies for Binge Urges During the Holidays

Karin Lawson is a licensed psychologist, certified eating disorder therapist and writer in private practice. She’s located in Miami, FL. Dr. Lawson is currently the Vice President of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals – Miami Chapter, as well as the President-Elect of the Miami-Dade-Monroe Psychological Association. Dr. Lawson discusses strategies for managing the upcoming holidays in this week’s blog post.

The holidays are no easy time of year for most people, much less those who are working on their recovery from an eating disorder. Here are two (note I did not say “easy”) strategies to keep close whether you’re dealing with family dynamics, internal food judgements or binge behavior.

The Power of the Pause. Simply working on pausing when you notice an intensity coming into your body can be a great tool. By “pause” I mean, insert something to slow-down or maybe stop a reaction, so that we’re able to take more consideration into what’s happening for us in the moment, rather than reacting on autopilot. I’m a big fan of creating a pause that also incorporates your nervous system, so that you’re physiologically inducing more relaxation, thus de-escalating the reactive response. So, you’re pause might be to take three slow breaths or do three should rolls forward and then three shoulder rolls backward or maybe your pause is to step outside (no matter the weather) and notice three things (e.g. colors, textures, shapes, sounds) or maybe your pause is to snuggle with your pet for three minutes. There’s nothing magical about the number three. I choose it simply because it feels more doable to most people. Therefore the strategy isn’t off-putting or overwhelming.

Self-Compassion Can Never Go Wrong. Let’s say you do binge, whether you tried the power of the pause or not. Your next strategy in line is to work on evoking a sense of compassion for yourself. Reminding yourself that binge behavior is a coping strategy. You are trying to deal with a difficult moment. How amazing are you to create ways to support your survival in this emotionally challenging world?! Just because you’re trying to let go of this behavior and find new options, doesn’t mean it was bad. Binge behavior was there when you needed it and now we’re working on giving yourself permission to find new freedoms and new options. Let’s be compassionate with that part of your creative self which discovered binge eating as a way to deal with life. Let’s give some understanding that it is hard to create change, even more so in a food-focused, family-focused time of year. Let’s imagine putting our arm around that part of yourself and giving some love and understanding, instead of criticism and shame. Let’s give a bit of gentle compassion to the parts that feel unloved right now. Another way to evoke self-compassion is to look at the behavior with gentle curiosity (again instead of critical and shaming thoughts). Some questions you might say to yourself: “Wow, I must have really be dealing with something there . . . I wonder what was impacting me?” or “That was an intense moment, let me journal for a few minutes to see what comes to mind about what happened.” or “Yowsa, I can’t believe that happened, but it’s an opportunity for information on my recovery. I wonder what I can find out here. Maybe I’ll text a friend or trusted professional to let them know I need to check-in later and process this.” Self-compassion is the antithesis of shame. Shame wants to hide and lurk, but the more we can acknowledge (both to ourselves and to trusted others) the less room shame has to exist.

Here’s to not a perfect holiday season, but one that is sprinkled with light-hearted moments, self-care and gentleness.


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