Happy NO-lidays! Neutralizing Fattism and Healthism at Seasonal Gatherings

Part IV: Empathy

I am unloading a series of blog posts this week on neutralizing fattism and healthism at seasonal gatherings, although hopefully these concepts can apply year round. As a refresher, fattism and healthism pertains to diet talk, the healthy-living behaviors talk, the body shaming and the good/sinful dichotomy of food that ruins what might otherwise be cherished time with those closest to you. Part I, II and III in this series can be found here, here and here.

Marceline Smith and Virginia State Park: Flickr.com

Marceline Smith and Virginia State Park: Flickr.com

This is the last in the series Happy NO-lidays. In Part I, we covered off off making a self-protective decision not to attend seasonal gatherings at all when you are navigating recovery from an eating disorder. We then investigated finding ways to create a fattism- and healthism-free zone at a holiday gathering in Part II. Part III looked at the problem of fellow-anxious relatives and friends who will not be able to adhere to a fattism- and healthism-free zone, and how to shut down the infectiousness of that kind of anticipatory threat reaction.

Recently on the forums we had a thread where a member expressed frustration at having been lulled into an “I’m cured” relapse. As I mentioned at the time, the “I’m cured,” thoughts plague those in remission from all kinds of conditions: asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes (both types)...and for almost all the decision to stop taking medication, or throw lifestyle constraints out the window (getting enough sleep, etc.) leads to relapse.

But returning to remission from a relapse of any chronic condition requires recognizing that a latent condition is not the same as one that doesn’t exist at all. Your health and longevity depend upon always making certain conscious decisions, choices and actions every single day to ensure the condition stays in remission.

The desire to wave a magic wand, or enact a spell or ritual that will mean “Poof! No more eating disorder,” is strong because social norms dictate that engaging in pastimes of fattism and healthism mean you belong—you are not separate, other, or without status in your culture. In fact, another member on that same thread stated how badly she wished she had magical powers.

This final installment in the Happy NO-lidays series hinges on the possibility that those in recovery already have a magical power; they just have to figure out how to wield it. As I responded on that thread:

I think it might be a magical power to be able to identify when the culture you have been surrounded by and absorbed through osmosis since birth is full of false ideas, rules and arbitrary morality that can harm you and others.”

Although the Homeodynamic Recovery Method logo appears with either a light green outline or black outline, he is truly the quintessential white rabbit.

The rabbit represents an invitation to explore the truth all while coming to terms with its elusive nature—just as Alice follows the white rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

For most adults with eating disorders, remission has the odds stacked against it. Our approach to eating today is steeped in fear mongering and moralizing to such a degree that those with eating disorders get no respite from the unrelenting anxiety that any given food choice or activity might be wrong. Therefore, remission is found underground: down the rabbit hole.

Once you’ve stepped into the rabbit hole of a recovery effort, you will return above ground to live in remission, but you also face the same culture you left behind. You cannot un-see its failures and limitations. Adjusting to your new magical power of seeing those limitations and failures takes some time.

Initially, you might want to open everyone’s eyes to both the unscientific absurdity and cruelty of fattism and healthism. Then you may find yourself filled with righteous anger at the general disinterest there seems to be towards any change. Not only that, but you find many people seem to zealously and angrily protect their dogmatic belief system. From there you may withdraw and experience sadness.

Eventually, you find that personal space that will allow for you to live your belief system as a way to embody a fattism- and healthism-free space. It is a space of empathy and self-compassion.

Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of someone else. It’s not pity and it’s not mirroring either. Pity involves distinguishing the other person’s feelings as inferior in some way—unenlightened. Mirroring is what I discussed in Part III of this series—where you identify to such a degree with the other person’s feelings that you fail to distinguish the separateness of your own emotional timbre from what the other person is experiencing.

As you witness the very dominant buzz around you of fattist and healthist anxieties, you can empathize with these tortured souls who are your friends and family this holiday season. You’ve been there and you are no longer there. Empathy.

Maybe rare and tireless masters truly have boundless levels of empathy to spare, but if you’re anything like me, eventually the mouth muscles start to hurt from so much beatific smiling and then you are so done. That’s when you have to head on over to your self-compassion toolbox instead. You can visit self-compassion.org for ideas.

Having any magical power means you still have to figure out how to use it; when to use it; and, most critically, when not to use it. And that takes us back to the first installment in this series: it’s okay not to go to these celebrations and it’s more than okay to duck out early, make a token appearance, or otherwise limit your exposure to fattism and healthism. Magical powers take years to master.