Sunday, April 26, 2009

Keeping Disordered Eating at Bay over Summer Break - Guest Blog Post/Interview from Melissa Henriquez

College Lifestyles contacted Melissa Henriquez, author/blogger of Tales of a Disordered Eater, for tips/suggestions on disordered eating over summer break.  Melissa gracious replied to our request and we thank her for her time.  Enjoy her post, as well as follow her blog!  Thanks Melissa!

You’ve taken your last exam, hugged your friends goodbye, and now you’re headed back home … the place that, for whatever reason, often triggers your disordered eating behavior.

Perhaps your disordered eating habits began there. Or maybe your parents harp on you about your weight (as in, “you’re too thin” or “you’re overweight”).

Whatever the reason, going home for summer break – time away from the rigidity of a structured class schedule and the flexibility of college night life – can be a very scary notion for many young women who deal with disordered eating behavior.

But it doesn‘t have to be.

As with anything else in life, you are in control. You make choices. Every day, you choose to live a healthy life … or not to. Naturally, there are consequences when we choose not to, and we feel better about ourselves when we choose to.

Maybe at school, your disordered eating was finally getting under control. That’s awesome! In that case, take those positive steps home with you.

Do your parents know about your disordered eating issues? If so, you might feel they have you on a much closer watch than you’re accustomed to at school – which can no doubt be frustrating.

Try not to let that trigger your behaviors you’ve worked so hard to undo. Remember that that they care, and want what’s best for you.

Though my personal experience with disordered eating didn’t begin until several years after college, I still sometimes find visits home to see my family a challenge, because most of our time together centers around our two favorite things: talking and food.

My parents have been extremely supportive in my recovery process, and I appreciate that they acknowledge that holidays are often a challenge … or when they compliment me on just going with the flow (not easy for me!). That means a lot, and just knowing that they realize it has helped me enormously.

Here are some tips I use to keep my disordered eating issues at bay when I go home. Whether it’s for a holiday weekend, a week, a month or a whole summer break, I hope that these tips to manage your disordered eating behaviors will come in handy for you, as well.

1. Capitalize on positive coping mechanisms. Think back to which coping mechanisms worked for you at school. Was it hanging with friends who liked to go out and have fun, enjoying a night of pizza and wine? Was it working out for a little bit before class to help get your day off to a healthy, good start? Journaling your thoughts/feelings? Cooking some meals, or preparing snacks for days on the road? Seeing a therapist? Instead of being worried about looking for new coping mechanisms when home, keep in mind the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and continue doing whatever worked for you at school when you’re home.

2. Enlist support of your family or loved ones when things get stressful. Remember that restricting or over-exercising or binging, or binging and purging won’t solve whatever is really eating at you; seeking help from family or trusted loved ones or a counselor during tough times can work wonders. This might have worked for you at school, and it can work at home, too. Remember, you don’t need to go it alone, and they will probably be so encouraged to see you reaching out. As we all know, admitting we have a problem is the first step; doing something about it is the next one.

3. Keep wholesome comfort foods around. Knowing that you have a fridge and pantry stocked with good, nutritious choices is always a good thing. When you’re not stuck with a dorm room’s mini-fridge and university cafeteria options, you can pick and choose what you eat. And if having, say, Fuji apples or White Chocolate Macadamia nut Luna bars or Barney Butter almond butter in the dorm helped you feel “grounded,” why not pick these items up at the store to have on hand at home, too?

4. Test yourself a bit every day. If you’ve been struggling and the notion of going out to eat, for example, causes stress, start small by going out to a casual lunch with friends to build confidence. If no one has a suggestion, pick a place that you know you can feel comfortable and relaxed. Try dining outside; sunshine and a nice breeze calms nerves. The more you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, the easier they become; in cognitive behavioral therapy (a method my therapist used with me), this is called “systematic desensitization.” Eventually, dining out won’t spur the same magnitude of fear it used to, if at all.

5. Live a little! Because disordered eating behavior usually exists (and thrives) in solitude, you might need to be reminded every so often to keep busy with friends and loved ones during your time home. Remember, this is your summer break – you don’t want to go back to school in September with the only memory of your vacation being spent within the confines of your house or gym. Take up a new outdoor activity or go with an old standby, like biking. Go to a concert, hit the beach, check out a new city; anything to keep you busy and feeling fulfilled.

6. Ditch “Perfect Girl” syndrome. You’re human, not a super-woman. If you do have a slip-up at some point – and you very well might – remember that “pebbles” like these are normal along the path to recovery. It doesn’t have to be a set-back unless you see it as one. To avoid this all-or-nothing approach, try to reframe it as a “blip on the radar,” and remember, tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity.

I’m not going to lie; recovery isn’t easy, and being out of a comfort zone can cause stress and anxiety on anyone — especially someone with disordered eating issues. I still struggle myself.

Yet I’ve learned, how you manage it is up to you. It’s your choice: to flex your “resistance muscle” and keep your disordered eating issues at bay, or to give into it and struggle.

No matter how you choose to handle it, summer vacation will inevitably come to an end, and before you know it, you’ll be back at school facing a whole new set of challenges.

I hope you’ll keep these tips in mind, remembering that they can travel with you throughout your life as you encounter potentially triggering situations.

In the words of L’Oreal, “You’re worth it.”

Melissa Henriquez ( is a married 29-year old PR professional who started her blog in an effort to overcome her own struggles with disordered eating. Between traditional therapy and blogotherapy, she's been an advocate for women struggling with similar demons. She's been featured as a guest blogger at Elastic Waist, Run4Change, Back in Skinny Jeans,, as well as two mentions. 

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