Ms Jessica Hoskins
BSc (Hons) Psychology
People generally think of the holidays as a happy, exciting yet relaxed time where you can be distracted from your worries. But in reality for some people the idea of small talk with friends and family, holiday meals and opening presents sounds worse than being a character in a horror movie.
We thought it would be helpful to think through some of our 10 top tips of how you can manage Christmas with an eating disorder, whether it’s binge eating, anorexia or bulimia.
10 tips to cope with an eating disorder at Christmas
The first step is to validate how you are feeling. It is completely ok and understandable that you are feeling this way as you are going into a situation that triggers your specific fears. It would be like sending a person with a phobia of clowns to a circus. However, unlike that person, your situational triggers are more difficult to avoid, especially around the holidays, and therefore it becomes more helpful for you to be able to know the best ways that you can manage this.
Despite the fact that many people eat irregularly or sometimes excessively at mealtimes during the Christmas holidays, try to stick to a normal routine. This can reduce your vulnerability to anorexia, bulimia or binge eating symptoms.
We generally recommend three meals and two to three snacks a day – leaving no longer than 4 hours between meals and snacks.
If you have upcoming visits with friends and family, or particular outings, plan out the situations ahead of time in order to avoid extra stress and anxiety.
You may also consider telling your family ahead of time not to make remarks about your eating or weight.
Additionally, plan and discuss particular family visits, events and activities in advance.
If someone makes an awkward remark about your weight, know what you plan to say ahead of time. Think about the specific skills you can use ahead of time. This may help relieve anxiety.
Write down each thing you need to get done for the Christmas holiday. Getting things done ahead of time also helps you to not forget anything, which can save a lot of unneeded stress.
While this may be difficult, being flexible with plans and situations which may arise can relieve tension that may come with Christmas.
Think about what skills you’ve learnt that you can use to help you to do this.
Identify a support person you know will listen to your concerns and that you are able to contact easily, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed.
This person will be there for you to talk with if thoughts regarding your eating difficulties begin to enter your mind or you feel particularly overwhelmed.
You could tell someone who will be with you during meal times your specific concerns and allow them to give you advice on what is appropriate.
It is important to communicate in a calm and clear manner and not place unrealistic expectations on any family member.
Also remember that people are not mind readers! They cannot always tell if we are struggling with eating disordered thoughts, so let them know if you are and what they could do to help you.
By taking part in fun activities, you can distract yourself from any food worries or urges to binge or purge you may be having.
Throughout the day also take time out to relax — listen to your favourite music, talk to a trusted person, go for a walk with a family member or friend, or practice mindfulness.
It will be important to do something you can enjoy or that relaxes you.
It is common during Christmas to receive dinner invitations from family, colleagues or friends. If you know that a situation would make you uncomfortable or overwhelmed, this may be one that you need to politely decline an invitation to.
Instead of only focusing on food and weight during the Christmas holiday, set other goals regarding what you might like to talk about and focus on.
You can also set specific goals on how you will practice therapy tasks.
If you feel things have not gone to plan, or your eating disorder symptoms slip in during the Christmas holiday, move on and do not allow it to stress you out.
Keep it simple, stay focused on recovery... and enjoy the Christmas period
Dealing with Christmas when you are experiencing an eating disorder can often mean that you feel obliged to do things you that you don’t like, so it’s important that you make your own decisions in relation to plans and not feel as though you have no choice.
All eyes will not be watching how much you eat; usually people are too busy enjoying their own meal and chatting.
Most people overeat on Christmas Day and often comment on the quantity they have eaten. Remember their comments are not aimed at you.
Give yourself permission to experience your own emotions on Christmas. Remember you don’t have to be happy and smile all the time – no one expects it.