Christmas can be such a challenging time in eating disorder recovery, whether you have Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder. A time of year that everyone else seems to be excited about, for you can feel anxiety provoking and overwhelming. And because everyone else finds it so exciting, you might feel that you can’t speak up about how you’re feeling. Whether it’s difficult because of the attention towards food, the less usual eating patterns of the holiday, the diet talk or the feeling like it’s a large crowd of people watching you eat – there are some things you can do to help manage your eating disorder this Christmas.
1. Stick to your meal plan
First and foremost, if you’re at a stage in recovery where you have a meal plan from your treatment team, this is something to prioritise. Try to make sure you follow the number of meals and snacks, and try to space them appropriately, and keep each one adequate. It can be tempting to eat less at other times to compensate for the main Christmas meal, but this typically results in a day of inadequate intake.
2. Adjust your meal plan
For some of you, you might be in a position in your eating disorder recovery to practice changing up the plan to work in with social eating. This could look like missing a snack and increasing lunch or having your Christmas pudding after lunch and perhaps not after the evening meal.
3. Practice being flexible
Remember that Christmas comes but once a year. This could be a time to practice challenging those food rules. Knowing that this occasion won’t be around again until next year might just help test some food challenges.
4. Plan the day
Make sure to take some time in advance to plan what you will eat throughout the day to help you see the day through with success.
5. Communicate your needs
If you have someone you are close to at Christmas this year, try letting them know what you need to accomplish with food and how they can support you. Maybe get them to serve up your plate instead of doing it yourself, or have them check over how much you have portioned, or have them sit next to you and encourage or distract you when you need the extra push.
6. Consider where you will eat
Sometimes it’s easier to eat with everyone else. For others, you might go somewhere a little quieter with 1 or 2 people and have your Christmas food in a more calm environment where you can focus on the task at hand
7. Find out if you can have the food and plates removed once the eating is finished
Sitting in front of plates and food once you have finished can be overwhelming. If possible, arrange for these to be cleared and attention shifted to something other than food once everyone has finished eating.
8. Make the day about more than just eating
Eating is often a part of celebrating Christmas. But there can be other activities in the day. Try suggesting some games or activities that will help keep the day about more than just the eating for you.
9. Find a buddy to help get through the Diet Talk
Its’ not unusual to find that at some point in the day, conversation will move to healthy eating or weight concerns or plans for dieting come the New Year. You can help mitigate the intensity of this by having someone to eyeroll with when Aunt Genevieve describes how good keto is for the hundredth time.
10. Prepare by talking to family members about safe conversation
If safe to do so, you can ask some family member to help moderate the group conversation so that you don’t have to.
11. Think about what Christmas meant to you before your eating disorder.
Sometimes connecting back to what you loved or still love about Christmas can remind you of what’s important to you and help get through the difficulties your eating disorder presents.
12. Plan your coping strategies
Whether they are planned with someone else there of by yourself, take time to consider how you might respond to problematic diet or weight talk, how to manage your anxiety, or how to manage fullness in compassionate ways that don’t involve compensating.
The Christmas holidays are never easy. But because Christmas is only once a year, it can be great marker of your recovery to look back on in one years time. You can use this Christmas as an opportunity to turn towards your personal values in recovery and set intentions for the year ahead. Have compassion for yourself this Christmas and see what you can accomplish.