For me, mid-October to early-January is terrifying. Absolutely petrifying. There’s Halloween and Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, and that’s not even counting the pumpkin-spiced-everything and the sudden increase in carb-heavy foods as the weather gets colder.
But I’ve spent too many autumns hiding in big sweaters and pretending I’m “just not hungry”. I can’t be the only one with an eating disorder who wishes it was different. This fall I’m going to treatment and I constantly have to remind myself why I’m doing it. If you have reasons that you’re recovering, leave them in the comments, too.
#1 – Keep smart
Did you know the brain uses 20% of the energy your body consumes? That’s the most of ANY organ in the human body, both percentage-wise and in sheer number of calories. And as we get closer to the New Year, we get closer and closer to dreaded exams.
Not having enough calories to burn makes it harder and harder to concentrate. Grades will slip, you’ll probably fail a project or two, and let’s not even talk about all the homework missed. That’s if class is even an option – without enough calories the energy needed to even be in class can be hard to muster. This was the only scare tactic my eating disorder therapist could actually use on me and now I’m trying to eat more so I can keep studying what I love. And so should you.
#2 – Warmth
Sweaters are amazing. Obviously. But you know what’s even better? Generating your own warmth. If you don’t have enough calories or enough fat in your body, you can get very cold very fast. That’s why you might find yourself growing more hair on your body if you’re extremely underweight. But you can have fat on your body and still be cold if you don’t have enough calories to maintain a proper body temperature. Look at it this way – a house can have all the insulation in the world and still be cold if you don’t keep the furnace running.
If your hands and feet often feel cold, it can mean you have bad circulation from your eating disorder. That’s really serious and should be addressed with your doctor.
#3 – Fighting dehydration
Dehydration in the autumn and winter can be really, really dangerous. The weird mixture of sweating and shivering if you’re playing sports can dehydrate you very, very fast. So can an eating disorder. The increase in schoolwork and decrease in temperature could make you drink more warm, caffeinated liquids, but caffeine will dehydrate you faster. Most types of eating disorders feed easily into dehydration, and keep in mind that when you’re feeling thirsty you’re already partially dehydrated.
#4 – Disordered eating
Everyone has that one dish they only eat once a year. Or maybe it’s the amount of food. Maybe it’s a meal at a grandparent’s house and they don’t know about your rules about food. And something’s going to happen that will make you uncomfortable.
The holidays are essentially defined by disordered eating. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you have an eating disorder, it can easily trigger you back into your old habits. If you’re in recovery, though, and working towards a better relationship with food, then you don’t need to be triggered by a holiday. I know, easier said than done. I still have issues when my food schedule is broken up, or when I’m encouraged to eat outside of my comfort zone.
#5 – Stress
School’s hard, guys. High school or college, you’re undeniably under a lot of stress. Your little eating disorder voice will probably tell you that if you follow your rituals you’re in control, but it’s not true. Eating disorders just add to your stress physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s a downward spiral that can lead you to a hospital fast if you don’t pay attention. Even if you don’t think you have an eating disorder, stress can very easily cause any unhealthy relationships with food to become even worse.
Having healthy coping mechanisms will make the stress feel more manageable. It will also remove a lot of the stress – simply not having enough nutrients for your body causes your brain and body to not function properly. If you have a restrictive eating disorder, you will start to focus excessively on food not because of your eating disorder, but because your body is dying and will do anything to get food.
#6 – Winter fun times
You definitely don’t want to miss out on winter activities because you don’t have enough nutrients. I’m working hard at thinking of calories not as a number or a judgment, but as a source of energy. Of course it’s really, really difficult, but with the new school year I’ve found activities that I’m missing out on because I just don’t have enough energy. While having more energy is always a good thing, winter brings a whole host of fun activities that can drain your energy very, very easily. Most winter sports you can imagine burn calories quickly – even sledding.
#7 – Making food
I love baking. I’m not very good at it, but you don’t need to be. But I can’t be in the kitchen when people are making anything now. It’s just too stressful. And I miss that. For better or worse, the autumn-winter holidays focus a lot on food and on the preparation. This winter I’m going to be learning a whole bunch of new recipes and recovery skills will help me be around that much food again.
#8 – Your immune system will thank you
Disordered eating can screw over your immune system. Cold season is coming up soon, and just one cold can knock you out. I’ve been battling a cold for about two and a half weeks now, even though I’ve beaten “stronger” illnesses in a much shorter amount of time. Your body is under a lot of stress because of your eating disorder and can’t fight off sickness as easily.
#9 – Celebrating the holidays with family and friends
I’m not talking about the food. Maybe you have a brilliant plan for food. I’m talking about not being able to spend proper time with your family and friends. Obsessively worrying about food can easily get in the way of your relationships with people you care about. If Thanksgiving is the only time you get to see your family, then the food will more than likely get in the way of spending quality time with them.
#10 – Because you deserve better
I was a “smart kid”. I wasn’t ever the smartest, but I didn’t need to study much for good grades and I was very, very good at school. This year, I’m losing that to my eating disorder. Eating disorders are amazing at taking things from you, and making you feel like it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. You don’t deserve that. You are a wonderful, individual person, and you deserve to be you, not a hollow, sickly shell.
I wish you the best of luck in your recovery. It’s undeniably hard, but I know that it’s possible. So go for it. Because you only stand to gain.