Coping with Christmas with an eating disorder

Christmas, like all holidays, is food focused which means a lot of people with eating disorders or any degree of disordered eating struggle to stay well. In this blog you will find top tips on how to set boundaries, how to make Christmas not all about food, and ways you can look after yourself at this time of year.

This information can be used all year round, but specifically when there’s likely to be more food available than normal or when there’s likely to be talk of “good vs bad food”. These times are likely to bring about food challenges, and there’s the added pressure of being around people you don’t see too often so they might be unaware of your problems with food and your body. The added stress of Christmas in general, with shopping for presents, food, and going out for meals with friends and family.

Note: This is written during COVID-19 so it’s very likely you won’t be around as many people as normal years, but the tips will still be very beneficial for now. Thanks to Shannon Western for her help with this post.

How to set boundaries

Hopefully some of the closest people in your life are aware of what would upset you, but Christmas can mena other family members are around, here are some quick things you can do to let them know whatever they’re doing isn’t helpful.

  1. If any talk makes you feel uncomfortable or upset (such as diet talk, too much talk of food, or commenting on your body) you can try removing yourself from the conservation by leaving the room for a few minutes. Such as going to the bathroom and taking a few breaths there.
  1. You could prepare some conversation topics so if any food talk comes up that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can have them ready to change the conversation. For example, if someone says “This food is naughty- but it’s cool because the diet starts in the New Year” you can try “Speaking of New Year, what is your schedule like in January; will you be busy at work?” You could also speak about current events, future family occasions, TV shows, or pets.
  1. Set a code word with people you’ll be spending time with; so that if any diet or food talk comes into conversations, you can say your “code word!” and they are aware you’re feeling uncomfortable and the conservation can move along.

How to ask for help

  1. If you’re around family or friends who know what you’re going through, set a plan with them, so they know what to do when you need them.
  1. If you’re spending Christmas with people who don’t know what you’re going through, try to find people who can help you online or virtually. For example, Beat web chat or phone lines. You could also seek out a counsellor who could be a support line when you need them.

How to make Christmas not all about food

Food is a huge part of Christmas: lots of chocolate, drinks with whipped cream, Christmas dinner to name a few… for people suffering with eating disorders, the focus on food can cause this wonderful time of year to be terrifying and cause a lot of anxiety. Christmas can trigger a lot of suffering, therefore it’s important to look after yourself or loved ones with past or present eating disorders.

  1. If possible, try to limit time at supermarkets as they are filled with people stocking up on foods you might find fearful. Instead, ask someone else to get what you need or order online.
  1. Plan activities you enjoy; such as winter walks, visiting garden centres, watching Christmas films, lighting candles, decorating your home, wreath making, or playing board games with family.
  1. Take up a new hobby; such as knitting or crocheting, singing, painting, designing Christmas cards, or candle making (bonus: give as gifts!)
  1. Give to others; start a Reverse Advent Calendar and donate to food banks for each day, take part in The Shoe Box Appeal.
  1. Remember that food is still food on Christmas. There’s a lot of food excitement, but remember your body is smart and it doesn’t see “Christmas food” as any different from “normal food”. Also remember that no matter how much you eat on Christmas day, you still need to eat on Boxing Day.

Self-care and self-nurturance during Christmas

  1. Be kind to yourself; Know your eating disorder is not a choice and if you struggle, don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong for proactively taking care of yourself. Practice kindness with gratitude journaling or with meditation apps.
  1. Try to keep your home environment/room tidy.
  1. Take time to eat meals; focus on mindful eating and remember you don’t need to rush at mealtimes.
  1. Write a list of 5 things you can do when you feel overwhelmed, this might include: Writing your thoughts in a journal, doing 3 minutes of box breathing, petting your cat for a few minutes, taking a hot shower or bath, painting your nails, painting, using a mindful colouring book, finding help on an online resource like Beat webchat or Big White Wall.
  1. Distract yourself by playing music or having the radio on, especially when you’re having anxiety when eating. Also having someone there who knows what you’re going through can help during mealtimes, by speaking about general topics.
  1. Plan activities for after meals; such as board games, jigsaw, or watching a film.
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