A client reminded me the other day that it's nearly Passover . She's not especially religious, but she and her family keep kosher, especially during the holidays, and then there's the whole no chametz thing, and on top of all this, they're travelling to stay with extended family (and change in routine can be so challenging to those of us with ED wiring). So, not surprisingly, my client is worried about how all of this is going to impact her recovery.
JUST IN CASE YOU DON'T KNOW...
Jewish people celebrate the Feast of Passover ( Pesach in Hebrew) to commemorate the Exodus ,or the liberation of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt by Moses. Passover has been celebrated since about 1300 BC,(wow!)
is "leaven" — any food that's made of grain and water that have been allowed to ferment and "rise." So this means bread, cereal, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer are blatant examples of chametz; but, in fact, any food that contains grain or grain derivatives can be, and often is, chametz. Practically speaking, any processed food that is not certified "Kosher for Passover" may potentially include chametz ingredients. The Jewish people left Egypt in such a hurry that there was no time to wait for the dough to rise, and so with just this unleavened bread and with their Faith and humility, they began the Exodus. This is marked by the eating of Matzah, the "Food of Faith" is eaten during Passover. (I should probably point out at this point that Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews have very different food traditions, and it's the Ashkenazi who prohibit the eating of chametz during Passover)
So is it possible to reconcile the process of nutritional rehabilitation in recovery and properly observe Passover with its' restriction?
FIRSTLY THE (SLIGHTLY) EASIER ONE...TRAVELLING
A lot of holidays involve travelling to stay with extended family. This can cause a lot of anxiety due to the change in routines and rituals and the unpredictability of travelling. Not knowing when you're going to eat. or where, being forced into unknown restaurants and having to choose from unfamiliar menus can throw the most determined of us in to a tailspin.
If the thing that's causing the most stress is unpredictability, then planning is the key. You need to consider in your travel plan whether you're travelling by plane, train or road (for one thing this makes a huge difference to how long you'll be travelling) and who you'll be with. Other questions to consider include
Are your travelling companions aware and supportive of what you're going through? if not, can you talk to them beforehand or would this make things too weird? can you talk to them about their approach-perhaps let them know what words help /don't help? Does it help if they talk about the food, or if they ignore it and talk about other things?
Preparing your meals for the journey is a good option, with sealed bags of your usual recovery food ; If you're flying and you don't fly regularly, check what food is allowed in your carry-on.
If you're driving and using prepared food, and your travelling companions are going to be stopping off to eat, consider what you will be do while they go into the restaurants; Will this time increase your stress or anxiety? If it's a well-known chain you're familiar with, you may feel comfortable ordering something and joining your friends.
There's also the option of getting someone to order for you: sometimes this can really relieve some of the pressure and can help you to venture outside your Eating Disorder food choices. The opposite approach would be to consider this an opportunity for a challenge meal: you can give yourself a short amount of time to make a choice of something that scares you, at least a little, order it and then distract yourself with the conversation at the table.
Depending on where you are in your recovery journey, restriction of any sort could be very triggering, and you're probably already picking food from a restricted menu; as always in recovery, stay aware of how you're feeling: for instance, is eating less than usual giving you a sense of achievement? Hopefully, you know your red flags and you need to reach out to your support person or people as soon as they pop up, before the relapse can take hold.
In terms of the restriction, I personally don’t believe the point of any religion is to put your health at risk. So, in my view, it's important to approach dietary restriction with some flexibility. By asking yourself what the meaning is behind the fasting rather than automatically observing the tradition, could help to reconcile trying to support that religious goal, without depriving yourself of important nutrients or risking triggering a relapse.
Also, letting yourself think about the the meaning of the rituals and the traditions can make you really explore your faith, think about what it means in your life, how it sustains and supports you, your relationship to it and how that may have evolved over time.
ABOVE ALL, BE KIND...
Remember the period of restriction will end. There will be other meals and you can have all the sweets, leavened bread and any other items you were missing; but if you had to make the choice to be more flexible in your observance of the restrictions to protect your recovery, then remember self-compassion. You're a human being and you're doing your best under incredibly difficult circumstances. It doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make you unworthy of recovery. Practice being kind to yourself.
If you find that a relapse has been triggered, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. Don't give up. Although relapses will create feelings of failure and weakness, they actually can help make you stronger.
Reflect on what happened, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Rather, turn it into a learning experience and opportunity to approach things differently next time. Reflection helps to build insight into what may be triggering for us, and how we’ve reacted negatively in the past to these triggers, in order to prepare us to more effectively to cope in similar situations in future. The skills you've learned before the relapse are still there and they still apply. Today is a new day.
Remember why you want to recover; a list of your reasons, both short and long-term, (and an idea of what life after recovery looks like for you), can be hugely motivating. Concentrate on activities that make you feel good and that can help distract you from any negative eating disorder thoughts that may be trying to crowd back in. Keep reaching out to your support network. And always, always hold on to the fact that you are worthy and deserving of happiness, health and recovery.