Creating Your New Normal: Staying the Course Toward Recovery as You Navigate the Holiday Season

Wendy Mathes, Veritas Collaborative
Wendy Mathes, Veritas Collaborative

By Wendy Mathes, MS, PHD, LPCA, NCC, DCC
Veritas Collaborative

The concept of “creating a new normal” is often discussed in therapy as individuals work towards recovery from an eating disorder. For those who struggle with binge eating, recovery may mean establishing a new relationship with food, finding new ways to communicate with family and friends, or a defining a new way to approach and cope with stressful situations. With the holiday season upon us, you may be faced with challenges on the path to your new normal. Holiday stressors, crowds, and traditions and events centered around food may make it difficult to depend on the skills you have established – and may threaten to take you off course in your journey toward recovery from binge eating. Acknowledging the past without judgment, being in the present as an observer of the current state of things, and thinking about what’s working and how to incorporate those things into your future can be beneficial in helping you reach and maintain recovery.

As you look back at the year, it can be helpful to identify circumstances that led to binge eating. We know that periods of vulnerability, such as feeling stressed, tired, and/or out of control, increase the probability of a binge episode. It’s important to identify your red flags and vulnerability factors so that when you’re faced with these conditions in the future, you can rely on coping strategies that will mitigate binge eating. Throughout this process it’s important to not condemn binge eating behavior. Instead, remember to practice self-compassion and acknowledge these episodes without judgement.

During the chaos of the holiday season, it can be difficult to set aside time for self-care. However, it is especially important during this time to practice mindfulness, stay in the present, and take the time to observe your physical and emotional state. Mindfulness helps to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and other vulnerability factors that contribute to binge eating. At the same time, it can help you to find joy during this busy season.

Engaging in this practice of reflection and mindfulness will help you to identify skills that have helped you find success in your work towards recovery. This can also be a reminder that you have skills to draw upon in moments of vulnerability. Sometimes when life begins to feel out of control, the automatic drive towards binge eating takes over. With continued practice, the coping skills you have successfully used in the past can become your automatic response to stress, decreasing the probability that binge eating will prevail in the future.

In facing the New Year, my wish for you is that you look toward 2017 with hope for an even brighter year ahead. Each day is a step toward recovery and to reclaiming your life and your well-being. No matter where you are on your journey, whether you’ve just begun or you’ve been at this for a while, I hope this new year leads you to find your new normal, and that 2017 brings you new victories and increased confidence in your abilities to continue working toward recovery.

Wendy has 15 years of experience in research, education, and clinical mental health. Prior to joining Veritas, Wendy worked as a counselor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro counseling center, where she provided group and individual therapy for individuals with eating disorders, among other mental health concerns. Wendy also worked as a research scientist studying the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders and was a member of the research team at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. As the Outreach Education Manager, Wendy aims to increase awareness of eating disorders and their treatment among medical and mental health providers, educators, and the community. She earned a Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in sport psychology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also holds a MS and PhD in experimental psychology from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.