by Christina Leigh
It is that “resolution” time of the year. I have been hearing the commercials advertising our two favorite New Year’s resolutions: weight loss and exercise. Those dreaded twins that make themselves very front and center in our minds after nearly a month of holiday feasting. Families dealing with eating disorders know those resolutions all year long and the extra attention around the New Year is not welcome. It seems like that breath you let out after getting through the holidays (hopefully with success, but certainly with additional knowledge and experience) is met with another hurtle in the form of the New Year’s resolutions. Just this week alone, I have seen or heard over 15 commercials for gym memberships, weight loss programs, and personal trainers. That doesn’t even include the ads on Pinterest, Magazines, pop-ups, etc., that talk about Paleo diets, Adkins Diets, low carbs, no carbs, more protein, less protein, ketogenic, raw/vegetable based diets, and the list goes on and on. I honestly think that this hurtle can be sometimes worse than the holidays. Like the holidays though, we have to talk about it and about what we are going to do to counter this if it is a trigger for our child. The good news is that while the desire for a “healthier” lifestyle is met with much enthusiasm at the beginning of the year, it doesn’t last long. The pace of our lives is so busy that I think adding one more burden, in this case a trip to the gym after work or heading over to Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, is just one additional chore in a work week that is already too busy. The resolutions themselves are not necessarily bad, but jumping from 0 to 60 might just be a little too much. By the end of January, most of the diet and exercise talk is about done, or at least back to its normal obsessional level. Does that month seem like a year though? I know it could to me! Because my son was so focused on exercise, the gym memberships, the HIT (high intensity training) videos, the personal trainers, etc., were very much a trigger for him during this period. Food was too. Last year “intermittent fasting” was all over the internet and it was coupled with exercise first thing in the morning to ensure optimal health.
It isn’t possible to run away from these things because they are always out there and available if we look for them. They are just more “in your face” around the New Year. I have tried many different strategies for dealing with these types of situations (whether it is New Year’s Resolutions or other “triggers”) and I have had varying degrees of success helping my son to manage these challenges. The truth is that I have found that the easiest approach for us has just been common sense and staying calm (me, I mean). Presenting that air of calm and confidence has a very positive effect on his anxiety. Not sure it does a whole lot for mine, but I do find that not only does my son benefit when he feels that I am calm and have a plan, the other kids do too. I know you are likely tired from all of the holiday hustle and bustle, not to mention the extra planning involved with eating disorders, so here are a few tips that I hope you may find helpful in dealing with “resolution” time.
Talk about it: Don’t avoid it. If you think that this may be a problem ask your child/loved one if hearing all of the talk about New Year’s resolutions is a trigger for him/her. Maybe it doesn’t bother him/her at all and your anxiety can be relieved. It might just end up as a good conversation about where things are right now and what really is a trigger if this isn’t. If it is a trigger though, talk about what in particular is the most difficult.
Ask what would be helpful: Often in our zeal to fix things (or, at least mine), we forget to ask the person getting the “fix” what would be helpful for them. They know best what is triggering and what isn’t. Ask for suggestions of things that are helpful and soothing and also for things that cause more anxiety and should be avoided.
Limit TV and Radio Commercials: If all of the advertisements on TV and radio for exercise and diets are triggering, change the station when they come on. You can still watch the show and listen to the music, just switch the station for a minute at the commercial break. Perhaps avoid some of the internet sites that you know will be hyping all of the diet and exercise right now.
Have a plan: Have a plan of action prepared ahead of time should the triggers lead to urges to act on symptoms. That plan could involve extra support from family, calling a therapist, a diversionary activity, journaling, drawing, etc. Make the plan with your child so that you can assist should it be necessary. You might consider making that plan with your treatment team if recovery is just beginning or there has been a recent setback as they are very familiar with handling these types of difficulties and they know your child.
Increase time with Support Groups: If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with support group meetings more than once per month, attend more frequently.
Be Calm and Reassuring: Be reassuring and calm when talking. Offer sympathy and comfort. Remind him/her that feeling anxious or “triggered” right now is understandable. Don’t minimize it, don’t rationalize it, and you can’t fix it. Sometimes, just listening and being sympathetic is validating and calming.
Remind Your Child/Loved One They are not Alone: Convey the message that he/she is not alone. You are there to provide assistance and “step in” if necessary and reassure him/her that there are plenty of people available to provide help. Needing some help is not a failure or weakness. Remind them that there is a safety net.
Dealing with “triggers” is something that we simply can’t avoid. Whether they trigger eating disorder urges or other issues, they are all over and we can’t run away from them. It is painful when we encounter them and even more painful when they cause our child or someone we love to act on symptoms. It isn’t failure and it isn’t weakness though. The good news is that the more we encounter them the more we will grow. It may feel like pruning at first, but we gain knowledge and experience every time we encounter these situations. We learn what works and what doesn’t work and we rework the plan for future encounters. Our ability to be “blindsided” decreases every time we come out on the other side!