To be jolly? To panic? To dread? To become increasingly overwhelmed?
I bring you: Christmas with an eating disorder.
It’s nearly here! Decorations are going up, gifts are being purchased, Christmas songs are on repeat and I’ve even dug out my festive onesie!
It’s by far my favourite time of the year (hello cliche) and I feel that magic as if I were a young child (I may still put out a carrot for rudolf, but that can be our secret).
As much as I enjoy the festivities, there is still anxiety surrounding this period, souring it and leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m sure the same can be said for a lot of others going through recovery or still in the grasp of their disorder. There’s a lot of food, there’s planning months in advance, there’s families (or maybe there isn’t) and it can become overwhelming very quickly.
So what can we do as those battling with eating disorders or recovery and what can our friends and family do to support us? I’ve tried my best to compile some ideas and advice for both groups, with hope that it will help, even if it’s just a few of you, to have happier holidays.
Enjoying Christmas With An Eating Disorder
- Planning! Plan, plan, plan. Either with the help of your nutritionist, therapist, a loved one or doing it yourself (only if that’s something you feel able to do). Make it for the whole festive period and stick to it!
- Eat! Eat consistently and consciously. Remember, if needed, it’s okay to adapt your meal plan to fit in festive foods, which will obviously differ a little to your normal meals. Don’t go with the mindset of skipping meals or dropping snacks to justify the different meals/ timings at this time of year. Remember number 1. Plan!
- Take time out! If you’re feeling overwhelmed or have panic flooding over you, excuse yourself for a few moments and take a breath. Remind yourself that you’re safe and today can be like any other day during your recovery journey. If this feeling doesn’t subside then talk to someone who you feel comfortable with, who can reassure you and give you advice on how to deal with these emotions and the situation.
- Keep it simple! I’m guilty over over thinking and over complicating Christmas. Sometimes all it takes is a step back, a chance to reassess and to breathe. Realise that you don’t need to rush. Trust yourself, trust your body. For those who struggle with bulimia or binge eating: there’s no need to rush your food. Take a normal portion like you would any other day and remind yourself that there will still be food left. Take your time, slowww down.
- Communicate! If you don’t want to go to that relatives house because it makes you uneasy, say so. If you want a bit more food or a little less (within reason, remember to be safe) then let someone know, or dish up your plate yourself if it’s an option. If you feel out of control once you’ve finished eating, open up, text a friend, tell a loved one. Please don’t suffer by yourself. Say what would be helpful, maybe a walk, maybe a game. Take your mind of those racing thoughts. If there’s worry in regards to your meal plan in the weeks prior to Christmas then run through your options and your worries with your therapist, nutritionist of someone else before hand.
Remember, be as open and honest as possible. Planning ahead of time is a great tool, it reduces that overwhelming rush.
Take your holidays one day at a time, because, let’s be honest, looking at the overall festive period can be a recipe of disaster! If you need to, break those days down even more, one hour at a time or each half an hour.
Lastly, enjoy yourself! You are so strong and should always be proud! If slip ups happen, it’s okay! Take a time out, regroup and tell yourself that recovery is one of the hardest battles you’ll face but you’re doing so well, slip ups and relapses happen. We just have to pick ourselves back up and keep plodding along. If you are struggling, please don’t go through it alone.
Supporting A Loved One Over Christmas
It’s understandable that Christmas can bring up a range of emotions for all of us. You may be worried, frustrated or just unaware when it comes to your loved ones Eating Disorder. Here’s a few things that have helped me and my family when we’re all together.
- Limit diet talk. In fact, let’s get rid of it all together. There’s plenty of super interesting things to talk about that don’t include ‘how bad all this food is,’ or that your diet ‘starts in the new year’, or ‘how naughty all this cheese is’. I mean come on, no one needs to hear that negativity. It’s hard to hear when in recovery!
- Spotlight. It can be difficult as a relative or friend to know what to say over Christmas and of course, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and cause discomfort. I’d suggest keeping that the day normal is a great place to start, avoid focusing intently on the person who’s in recovery or is still dealing with their eating disorder. I think a lot comes down to how you go about day to day life, I know with my situation I don’t particularly like being asked questions about food or comments on what I’m eating and that works for us. For others it may mean talking to your loved one from time to time to check in with how they’re doing. Maybe you normally wait for them to approach you. With all of this in mind I will always say that communication works well and if there’s any uncertainty on how you should act then just speak to them on an open manner before the festivities begin.
- Take the focus away from food. Food is already the centre of our thoughts, so maybe try organising a family event or a day out that doesn’t revolve around food. When larger meals are planned, have other things planned as well. Maybe a nice walk after dinner or some silly games to distract.
- Space. I know it’s hard, maybe trust is difficult, but a bit of space is always needed. If things get a bit tough for them over dinner they might excuse themselves. Let. Them. Go. They’ll return when ready. Try not to ask too many questions about portion size or ‘how the food is’ because what may seem like an innocent question to you may be taken the wrong way. If you’re unsure about what to do during the family meals then just ask them in a non judgemental and supportive way. Wether it’s about portion size, food likes and dislikes or you just need a bit of reassurance yourself.
Christmas can be tricky and delicate to navigate when dealing with these sensitive issues. Trust each other, support one another and communicate. No matter where you are this year or who you’re with, I hope you have a lovely and magical Holiday!