Navigating Diwali with an Eating Disorder
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most significant festivals of Hinduism and is celebrated around the world by many communities. Diwali is symbolic of the triumph of light over darkness & good over evil. Typically spanning over 5 days, it is usually looked at as a time of celebration, joy and coming together, but for those who might be struggling with their mental health, and particularly an eating disorder, this time can be particularly hard. In this piece, we will explore this in more detail while trying to understand the facets of the festivities which can be triggering while also providing tips on how we can look after ourselves and look after others who might be having a hard time managing their eating disorder or navigating recovery during this time.
Festivities and cultures can be complex and diverse, while they may not directly contribute to eating disorders, they can impact different individuals differently. When it comes to Diwali, the festivities essentially include having meals (typically with family and extended family), wearing new clothes, socializing and in some cases, fasting as well. Being aware of these triggers can help us be more mindful during this time to support others while also looking after ourselves. First, let's explore the aspect of food – as with several festivals across cultures, food is an essential part of the festivities which can involve exchanging sweets and eating traditional meals which can include several dishes. This can be hard as it can increase one's fears around overeating, weight gain and also limit the access individuals have to ‘safe foods’ owing to traditional meals being made during this time. Related to food is the aspect of fasting which is common during this time in some communities, and this can be hard for someone in recovery who is trying to get back to healthy eating habits and regular meals.
Next, let us examine the aspect of wearing new clothes and festive attire. The challenge this poses for individuals struggling with their body image or coping with body dysmorphia, seeing changes in one's clothing size or wearing festive attire can heighten their concerns and increase negative thoughts about their appearance.
Moving on to the aspect of social pressure and having to socialize during the festivities of the season, individuals might find themselves trying to manage expectations around indulging in food during this time while also trying to navigate the diet talk, unpleasant family dynamics and unsolicited comments on their eating patterns or weight during this time. Individuals might feel an increased discomfort around pressures to conform which might not be in line with their recovery goals and to avoid the temptation to compare themselves to others around them who might be enjoying the food and festivities while they themselves might be having a hard time navigating this time.
Lastly, social media can also be a big trigger for people during this time as they are faced with photos of food and celebrations which can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Now that we have discussed the triggers around Diwali, it is important to remember that we need to look after our physical and emotional well-being through this time, and there are several ways in which we can take care of ourselves if we’re trying to navigate this season with poor mental health or an eating disorder in particular. We can start this by setting clear boundaries and making plans around meals, social interactions and the festivities so that we don’t feel overwhelmed and can better manage our recovery goals. By focusing on mindful eating, and engaging in non-food related activities like lighting diyas, making rangolis or decorating, we can shift the focus away from food.
When planning for Diwali, it can help to lean into your support system and let them know ahead of time what your worries are and perhaps work through a plan in case you’re triggered and need to step away. Using self-care techniques like journaling and breathing exercises can also come in handy while also being mindful of one's social media usage. Lastly, it can help to remind ourselves that the essence of Diwali is much more than food.
While we look out for ourselves, we need to also be mindful that there might be others around us who might be struggling with their mental health or battling an eating disorder during this time. There are several ways in which we can do this which we can do ranging from educating ourselves about eating disorders beforehand, helping our loved ones who might be struggling to build a plan ahead of time to help them cope while also helping to plan non-food related activities which they can engage in through the festivities and gatherings. Additional things which can be helpful include encouraging honest conversations, keeping an eye out for signs suggesting relapses or poor mental health, encouraging self-care practices and help-seeking should the need arise. Lastly, it can also be very helpful to avoid making remarks related to food, weight or appearance while also refraining from monitoring their food intake.
We all have a role to play to ensure that everyone has a bright and happy Diwali & we can do this by remembering to focus on celebrating the essence of Diwali, a festival about celebrating light, love and togetherness and not just food. We can illuminate the lives of those around us by fostering an atmosphere of empathy, support and understanding so that people can enjoy the festivities without compromising their recovery.
This Diwali, let's light a lamp of knowledge and kindness to help dispel the darkness around mental health and eating disorders.
Vedica Podar, Mental Health Advocate & Founder – Kangaroo Minds