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Coping with Christmas with an Eating Disorder

Laura Muth

Christmas, with its focus on family, food and disruption of everyday routine can be a particularly stressful time of the year if you are suffering from an eating disorder. For example, you may be expected to eat meals with relatives or friends who are less aware of your struggles, leading to increased distress anxiety at meal times. Therefore, we have created 25 tips to support you during this potentially difficult time:

  1. Presents: Take the pressure off present shopping and make it simple. Books for everyone? Fiction or non-fiction with a personalised message in the front and there you go!
  2. Think about how you could create your own Christmas ‘rituals‘ that work for you – perhaps starting the day with meditation or arranging to go for a walk in the countryside.
  3. People often talk a lot about food at Christmas, and overeat. Remember that talking about food is common on Christmas Day and any comments are not necessarily aimed at you.
  4. If you know that too much alcohol will lead to a binge or unsafe behavior, stick to 1-2 glasses.
  5. Only attend what you can handle. Politely decline invitations if you feel the situation would make you uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Situations which include non-food activities may be most enjoyable.1st december
  6. Think about  what YOU need from this Christmas holiday. Do you have coursework or work to do? Is it an opportunity to catch up on self-care and fit in some meditation sessions, do some yoga or stretching, have a walk in the countryside, read a book just for fun? Perhaps review some past Christmases to remember what works well for you and what doesn’t and aim to include more of what you have previously enjoyed about this time of year.
  7. Remember that presents are a token of an appreciation and they don’t need to be perfect. The quality of your relationship does not rest of value of that one present.
  8. Be in control of when you arrive and leave if this helps you feel safe. For example, if you are visiting friends or relatives decide ahead of time that you won’t drink alcohol in order to be able to drive there and leave when it suits you.
  9. Stay mindful. This will help you to stay grounded and will help you connect with your body, what you’re feeling and what you need. In response act according to your body’s needs whether that be time alone, food, sleep, relaxation and so on.
  10. Adapt your meal plan to include festive foods, rather than only your usual foods.  Find out what will be cooked and roughy when in advance. Allow time to talk over the plan with your therapist/nutritionist. Share this plan with someone you trust who will be with you over Christmas so they can help you, and others, stick to it. Be proud that you have been so well prepared!
  11. Plan ahead of time what will happen on the day, and who will be there so you can prepare ahead of time. Build in periods of time where you can be by yourself if necessary, and let whoever is hosting know that you may do this if you need to.
  12. Be open and honest to who ever is cooking what you feel up for eating. You do not need to prove anything to anyone on Christmas day and over eating or eating something that feels too frightening can backfire.
  13. Consider staying off social media for the duration. It can make it seem as though everyone else is having a ‘perfect’ Christmas, whereas the reality of this doesn’t exist!
  14. Anticipate toxic conversations arising and have a strategy to change the topic (have some conversations changers ready) or plan to remove yourself to visit the bathroom to compose yourself and allow the subject matter to pass.
  15. Take one day at a time – Looking at the total of the holidays can be overwhelming. Take one day at a time. You may even want to break the day down into parts. Just work on the morning goals, then the afternoon to bedtime goals.
  16. Use Mental Rehearsal, thinking about the different meal and snack options that will be on offer and visualising portion sizes in your mind. This preparation will help you to make recovery-focused choices.
  17. Look for those people who provide you with the support you need and bring you joy whether that be family, friends, or even fellow peers in recovery, so that with them you are able to find the comfort and freedom outside of your eating disorder struggle.
  18. Consider viewing the less predictable meal structure at Christmas as practice for your future life as an intuitive and “normal” eater.
  19. If you are worried about eating at different times to usual, remember that you can have a snack or a bigger breakfast to help keep you going. Do not arrive at the dinner table too hungry or feeling faint or cross – this will only increase your chances of binging or not enjoying a special time with family and friends.
  20. Don’t forget to journal.  The act of writing your thoughts down can give a sense of release as well as slowing down the process of your thinking.  This may help you to cope with your feelings.
  21. Don’t restrict meals to enjoys chocolates, cakes, mince pies, chocolate log or alcohol, or restrict breakfast to enjoy Christmas lunch. You need the nourishment of your meals to keep your blood sugars nice & balanced and to give you energy. Otherwise you are setting your self up for a potential binge.
  22. Give yourself the gift of acceptance – you are as you are.
  23. Allow yourself to experience whatever feelings come up for you on the day and let go of any pressure or expectation to feel ‘happy’.
  24. If you have enjoyed a nice amount of delicious food on Christmas day – do not respond by thinking you should restrict the next day or week. Eat as well as you can everyday you are on holiday to prevent binges or other unhelpful behaviors.
  25. Enjoy yourself – it’s meant to be fun! Christmas is a time to be surrounded by those who love and care for you. Try and accept that people are with you for that very reason, and your eating disorder does not have to be the sole focus of your day.

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