Christmas can be difficult for many reasons; from grief to mental health issues, from post-pandemic recovery to the cost of living crisis, or an eating disorder.
Given that so much of the holiday revolves around food and eating, it can be incredibly difficult for anyone that struggles with disordered eating.
If this sounds all too familiar to you, the first thing to remember is that you’re not alone. In fact, it’s thought that at least 1.25 million people in the UK are struggling with an eating disorder at any given time. They affect people of all ages and of any race, gender, or body type.
Christmas is the one time of the year when it is socially acceptable and even expected, that you will eat and drink to excess. It’s a period that, for many, often passes in a haze of overindulgence, excess alcohol and poor sleep. All combined with a loss of daily structure and routines.
And while this ‘Christmas spirit’ is welcomed by most, it can be extremely triggering and anxiety-provoking for others.
For someone with an eating disorder, a great deal of energy is used trying to manage meal times and maintain a sense of ‘control’ around food. This often means ensuring they cook their own meals, weigh ingredients or diligently count calories.
As mealtimes over the Christmas period are often spent socially in groups, where the eating disorder sufferer has no input. This can lead to a sense of loss of control.
Houses are often filled with chocolates and treats that they would ordinarily not buy or willingly have in the house. This means that the triggers and temptation to binge are everywhere.
Although not intended, comments and conversations from friends and family may also be triggering. With comments like “Ah go on, it’s Christmas” or the classic, “The diet starts in January!”
Diet culture is also rife around this time and perpetuates the restriction and binge eating cycles. Messaging and advertising in the weeks running up to Christmas actively encourage you to overindulge. Then after boxing day, when they know feelings of guilt and shame are high, encourage you to get rid of your ‘excess’ through the latest diet or fitness plan.
If you struggle with your eating at Christmas time, here are some suggestions to help you navigate the season:
- Plan enjoyable, non-food-related activities, particularly after meals so that there’s a distraction from any urges, triggers, or uncomfortable feelings.
- Speak to family members that you trust and raise your concerns. If need be, ask for certain conversation topics to be off-limits.
- Make a list of non-negotiables, that you simply must do daily to maintain self-care.
- Stick to a regular meal plan in terms of timing and eating balanced meals, whilst accommodating ‘off-plan’ meals.
- Ensure you don’t skip meals or undereat to allow for Christmas meals, as it encourages overeating when you do eat.
- Remember that Christmas day is just one day and the feelings that it brings up will too pass.
- Remind yourself that these foods can also be bought and eaten all year round and that ‘last supper’ eating increases feelings of guilt and shame.
- Keep stress levels as low as possible around the festive season. Stress can be a common trigger for binge eating. Set boundaries where you need to have a good self-care routine in place.
- Focus on the non-food related aspect of Christmas that you enjoy like movies, board games, and relaxation time.
- Remember that food has no moral attachment to it! Whatever you eat over Christmas does not need to be ‘worked off’ in January.
For those of you that are struggling over the Christmas period, BEAT not only has helpline support but also offers programmes to carers and individuals. They are specifically built around supporting those with eating disorders at Christmas time.
If you’d like more personalised support through your recovery, my diary will be open again in January 2023. To find out more about my 1:1 food Freedom therapy, visit my website.