We are just two days away from Christmas, and people are stocking up on food, wine, and last minute presents. This time of year is always filled with trepidation for those of you with eating disorders. It’s a holiday focused around alcohol, food, and family, and at least two of the former bring on that familiar rising panic for lots of people suffering or recovering from eating disorders, whereas for the rest of us, it’s generally just the one (family; I’m talking about family).
If you are someone with an eating disorder, and you are approaching Christmas Day with dread, you are not alone, and you can get through it. It is probably going to be a tough day, but there are steps you can take to make the most of it. Here are my suggestions on how to get through the day:
Focus on Family
Food is a big part of Christmas for most people, but you don’t have to let that be your main focus. Prioritise your family and/or friends and/or partner and enjoy their company. Catch up on the gossip, take part in the board games, and sing along to the carols with grandma. Spend time doing what is enjoyable for you. If your family can make this easier for you, let them know how. Maybe it means trying to keep the topic of conversation away from food. Maybe it means keeping food in the dining room and having the lounge as a food-free zone. Maybe it means going out for a walk with your siblings to get a bit of fresh air and space. Whatever you do, try to keep the focus on the company of those you love, and enjoying the time spent with them.
Set Boundaries with Loved Ones
This is a day that everyone should be able to enjoy to their very best, so do take the time to talk to the people that you will be spending your time with and set your boundaries for the day. This could mean asking them to refrain from talking about New Year’s diets, making food-moralising remarks, or reminding them not to comment on any of your eating habits. Do not be afraid to voice your needs. It is important to make clear what you need from them in order for you to enjoy the day.
Challenge Yourself…But Not Too Much
A huge part of the anxiety of the day is that there will be a lot of delicious food around that you will want to eat but also will not want to eat, and that’s the fight between you and your eating disorder. For a lot of people, this battle is going to go on all day, and that can make the day extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking (see Focus on Family for ways to minimise this). This is also a great time to challenge yourself, but a time to not push it too far: you don’t want to make the day even more stressful by pushing yourself to the limit. One way to go about using this day as a manageable challenge is to make rough plan of what you might eat that day. This will give you a guideline that might help you feel a little more contained, but could involve trying something new or facing a fear food. Try not to restrict yourself as much a you can, but it’s okay if you need to feel safe for a day that is so difficult already.
Take Care of Yourself
You may be around people this Christmas that will not respect your boundaries or may be insensitive or ignorant to your recovery. They may talk about the triggering topics which I mentioned in the “Set Boundaries With Loved Ones” section above, such as complaining that they have put on weight/are going to put on weight, lamenting that they have eaten “too much”, are being “naughty” or “bad” because they are “indulging”, or moaning that they need to go on a diet because of that. Please ignore them. They are battling their own insecurities and are looking for reassurance that what they are doing is okay and that other people feel the same and that they are not alone. This is really, really sad, and something that no one should have to feel. Enjoying the Christmas food is part of the festivity, and no one should have to feel guilty for it. Know that other people’s worries are not a reflection on you, and you should keep in mind that it is not something positive that they are experiencing, but guilt, anxiety, and insecurity. So instead of letting their negativity impact on you, empathise with them, as guilt, anxiety, and insecurity are emotions that you are likely experiencing also (albeit on a much grander scale to those who do not have eating disorders). Keep moving forwards towards your goals. Keep moving forward on your journey towards health and happiness. Keep in mind your motivations, and remember that the way you respond to others affects you primarily.
Leave the room for a bit if you need to. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or a nap or to read a book. Go for a stroll. Have a quiet word with that relative who keeps calling the chocolate yule log “bad”. Just take care of yourself and do what you need to do, for you, to have the best day that you can. Do not be afraid to speak up. You need this. You deserve this.
If you are someone who has an un-supportive, highly triggering family, do know that it is okay to decide not to see them at all. If you want to spend Christmas with yourself, your partner, your partner’s family, your friends, or your pets, do it. Do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to continue moving forwards. Do what you need and you deserve to continue working towards health and happiness. Make positive choices, and don’t feel guilty about them. This is what you need. This is what you deserve.
Christmas is unfortunately never going to be an easy time for those with eating disorders, and it often means that those people go into it with anxiety, and leave it with guilt. It is okay to experience those feelings: you are not alone and those feelings are not your fault. However, you have to keep remembering that these negative emotions are caused by your eating disorder and the control that it has over your life. Keep fighting the war against it, and don’t respond to those negative feelings. You are going to be okay and you can get through this. Christmas will be over in a blink of an eye, and then it is time to put it behind you and move on from that day. Don’t carry the stress from it with you. Let the day go. Remember that it is absolutely, 110%, super okay to eat more than usual, go outside your meal plan, eat “normally”, or respond to extreme hunger (this applies for always, of course). It is okay to put on weight. It is okay to enjoy yourself. The guilt of going against those eating disorder rules can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is part of recovery. Going against your eating disorder and doing what you deserve is part of fighting the battle inside your head. Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is the goal, and so if you were able to do that for a day, or two, or more, or even if you were able to eat a little more than normal, you are making small steps towards achieving that outcome. That is a wonderful thing.
If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming, check out my article on anxiety management here.