If we change our language and conversations, we could all make a difference.

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Arielle Calderon standing amongst a table of delicious looking holiday treats
Credit: Courtesy of Arielle Calderon

The holidays can be triggering for so many people. Sometimes it's because of fluid family boundaries, toxic political divides or the endless interrogation about your life and the milestones you haven't reached yet.

For me, it's always been about the food.

"Ugh, I need to run tomorrow to work off these desserts."

"The diet starts Monday!"

"Omg I ate too much, I feel like a bloated pig."

This commentary around family dinners and holiday parties is pretty common. I would be SHOCKED if you haven't also been bombarded by this subconscious fatphobia before. For many people, it's totally normal and doesn't affect their daily lives. But for people with eating disorders, these conversations leave a deep impact—we take that casual family chatter to heart. And because of it, my brain has been fully trained to believe that some food is "bad" and some food is "good," and that indulging in the "bad" will make you fat and undesirable. It's infuriating.

In 2015 I embarked on a weight-loss journey with the hopes of becoming a girl who got hit on at bars, had doors held for me by cute men and finally felt confident to go on dates. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted all my problems and fears to go away and losing weight felt like a surefire way to erase my insecurities. Spoiler alert: it didn't.

In December of 2017, 100+ pounds down and seemingly enjoying my life as an Instagram wellness influencer, I found myself tangled in a dichotomy of thoughts. Physically, I was in pretty good shape. I had the stamina to run half-marathons, I didn't wheeze when I walked up the subway stairs and I could do ten solid burpees. Mentally, I was wrapped in isolation and the toxic stream of self-absorption. I felt free from my past life, and trapped by my new one—all at the same time.

I became obsessed with calories and Weight Watchers points and looking good in front of my friends and family. I battled with my own hunger and couldn't decide if I should starve or binge for the sake of looking hot in my festive outfit. I stopped going to holiday parties, too afraid of being faced with untrackable meals. I scrolled through Instagram accounts filled with "healthy" substitutes for holiday foods and before and after photos. I created meal plans and workout schedules, so I could stay on track and not succumb to the real taste of mashed potatoes and apple pie for Christmas dinner. I cried in therapy all the time, speaking my truth to the only person I could trust with my deepest vulnerabilities. Everyone on the outside thought I was living my best life, enjoying the privilege of being thin and "internet famous". But inside, I was screaming. Begging for help. Wanting to think about anything other than food.

It's now December 2019 and many things have changed. I am in recovery for an eating disorder I refused to acknowledge for years. I've stopped starving myself. I've stopped bingeing on food and saying, "this is the last time—I'm never eating this again." I go to holiday parties and enjoy holiday parties. I don't limit food or give myself permission to eat in exchange for other toxic behaviors, like "working it off" beyond my physical limits, or only drinking water and consuming salad (without dressing and cheese) the next day. I spend quality time with my friends and family. I focus on the memories to be made, not the way my arm fat looks in a cardigan.

The holidays used to be the most triggering time for me and while there's still progress to be made, I am now cognizant of how I talk to myself and value myself. This is something I wish all humans would practice. Just because you are not offended by someone's comments on your food or body, doesn't mean someone else isn't. If we start to change the dinner conversations and make it more about how a person is feeling, how they can be supported or what you can do to enrich your collective lives, maybe our connections will grow stronger and people will feel less lonely or stressed to mold themselves to impress society.

Navigating the holidays with an eating disorder used to be the most triggering thing in my world. Now it's liberating to see how far I've come with myself.