Nikki Rollo, PhD, LMFT

For those struggling with a food, weight, and body image issues Winter can be a stressful time of year. Gatherings with family and a focus on food and drink may not feel exciting and celebratory. It may instead feel like increased pressure, stress, fear and anxiety.

It’s also that time of year when the days feel shorter, darker, and colder. The brightness and long days of Summer are a distant memory and the crispness of Fall is slowly moving behind us. Winter is arriving with all of the things it always brings. Snow, rain, colder days and even colder nights!

The anticipation of the holidays, time with family and friends, increased exposure to food, and the colder and darker days can be a recipe for great inner turmoil.

The joyful celebration of the season may seem nowhere to be found, replaced instead with stress, anxiety, fear, and inner pain.

Gandhi said, “Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself”

Joy is found in the process, in the doing of the inner work, in the fight to recover. Joy doesn’t have to wait until you have reached a point of being fully recovered. Joy can be experienced along the way, with the suffering, with the hard times, with the colder and darker days.

Here are a few messages and ideas for you to consider to find joy within yourself during this time of year:

  • You are not your illness: remember that this does not define you. It is quite common that those with an eating disorder begin to identify so closely with it, that it becomes hard to find an identity outside of it. You can start to feel lost in the overwhelming intensity of the illness. Part of finding joy is remembering that this disorder is not all of you. Take time to explore your identity and values outside of the eating disorder. Perhaps you are also generous, kind, and compassionate. Perhaps you have a skill of making people laugh or are gifted with animals. Whatever it may be for you- take some time to list some other aspects of who you are. Hang it on your mirror. Look at these things every day and start to spend more time building other aspects of who you are.
  • Feel your feelings: this can be a hard time of year. It’s ok to feel that. It’s important to feel whatever is coming up for you. Consider journaling about these feelings or talking to a trusted therapist, friend or family member. It is important to allow these feelings to be expressed rather than holding them inside. It is important to face these difficult feelings directly instead of avoiding them. In this way, they can co-exist with joy. We can feel the wide range of human emotion. This is an essential part of the recovery process.
  • Start a gratitude practice: discontentment can kill our joy. When we are envious of the position of another and critical of our own position in life or experiences, we are unable to feel our own joy or joyful for another person. Taking time to write down what we are thankful for, one thing a day, for example, can be a way to start to shift our perspective on this. We can feel joy for our own gifts and good things in life and joy for others for the good things that they have in their lives.
  • Have Hope: There will come a time in your recovery that the holidays and winter do not bring the same amount of pain and suffering. At the same time, if this is where you are now, use your suffering as a way to grow and develop your resiliency. Do the hard work of recovery. Really engage with it. There will be ups and downs, but continue to move forward. Imagine your life without the pain and suffering of an eating disorder. Work together with your therapist and dietitian toward that goal. Start to make small steps toward making that a reality. It is possible. It is possible that joy can be found in this process of small and big wins, in knowing you are really deeply engaged in the process of healing.