The food component of Christmas is extremely challenging if you struggle with an eating disorder!
1 – You’re surrounded by yummy foods, perhaps making you prone to binging.
2 – There is social pressure to “act normal” around food, which typically means ‘diving in’ and eating more than usual. This can leave you feeling OUT OF CONTROL.
3 – Most festive eating situations are set up like a buffet, with a variety of different foods. Some of these foods may be out of your comfort zone. Picking what to put on your plate can feel incredibly overwhelming and stressful.
Typically, these experiences can affect your mood and your enjoyment of “what is supposed to be” a fun time of the year. You may experience unpleasant high levels of anxiety during, or leading up to, Christmas events. Possibly a few eating disorder scenarios play out as a result of these events:
1 – You try to compensate for food eaten, by excessively exercising or purging.
2 – You binge more frequently, perhaps even a few days in a row.
There are, however, some really helpful ways you can cope with an eating disorder at Christmas time.
Ways to Cope With Your Eating Disorder This Christmas
I think FIRST – it’s important to recognise that Christmas eating is a tough and vulnerable situation for anyone with an eating disorder. It’s unhelpful to expect yourself to adapt easily, and join in freely and “normally” to festive eating situations. For most people with an eating disorder, Christmas will be the most challenging time of the year!
So… cut yourself slack, and give yourself permission to be armed with strategies. Most of these strategies are designed to give you more of a SENSE OF CONTROL. This will help reduce eating disorder behaviours, including; binging, or attempts to compensate for food eaten via purging or excessive exercise.
Yes, with a bunch of strategies in place, you miss out on some of the food fun, but do you pay a higher price for going unprepared and “free”? If so, it’s worth admitting this to yourself and accepting the importance of planning for these events.
It’s important to note before we go into these strategies that a big part of recovery from an eating disorder is challenging yourself with different foods, serving sizes and eating situations. If you’re further down the eating disorder recovery pathway, you may feel ready to challenge yourself with various Christmas eating opportunities. However, if you’re not at this point – give yourself permission to go armed with strategies.
7 Tips to Help You Cope With Your Eating Disorder This Christmas
#Tip 1. Remember Christmas celebration days are just like any other day of the year. Aim to eat on these days as you would any other day – for most people in eating disorder recovery, this will mean sticking to your meal plan. If you usually have a sandwich for lunch and a hot meal at dinner – then swap them over if a hot lunch is being served.
#Tip 2. Preplan food servings. For example, if you have Christmas lunch, your food options are mostly likely to be meat or seafood, various salads and vegies (including potatoes). Decide what you are going to serve yourself prior to lunch – use a plate rather than “picking” at food or going back and forth to the food table. For example, you may preplan to add to your plate: 1 serving of meat/seafood (or alternative protein), 2-3 vegie servings (include one potato type) and 1-2 salads. Then, you may plan to eat one serving of pudding with a side of cream.
If you’re further along recovery, you could copy a close relative’s eating choices on Christmas – that is, you could put whatever they’re eating on your plate and eat the same desert.
#Tip 3. Avoid spending time near food, especially buffet-type tables of food. Try and move away from food, perhaps even moving to another room if possible. This will reduce the urge to “pick” at food, which likely leads to anxiety and a sense of losing control. Hold a drink to keep your hands busy.
#Tip 4. Avoid foods that may trigger a binge. At some point in eating disorder recovery it is important to challenge yourself to eat perceived “forbidden foods” without binging. However, Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Boxing Day are not the days for these challenges. There are already enough eating challenges on these days.
#Tip 5. Acknowledge that it is normal to eat more on some days and less on other days. Christmas time is a time where people tend to eat more, so plan to eat more. Be cognisant that you will not gain weight by eating more on a few days.
#Tip 6. Ask a family member or friend to support you at events. Explain your concerns prior to the event and workshop ideas of how they could support you on the day.
#Tip 7. Try to avoid “all or nothing” thinking if one meal or day of the festive season doesn’t go to plan – “all or nothing” thinking can set off eating disorder behaviours. Instead, look for the positives in the situation:
If you binged, what can you learn for next time?
If you’re highly restrictive and perceive eating too much at an event, ask a trusted person whether you really ate too much?
How Can Peaceful Mind Psychology Help?
We are a team of warm and experienced psychologists, who have a specialised interest in eating disorder treatment. Our psychologists are competent and experienced in eating disorder treatment, using mainly CBT-E for eating disorders (Cognitive-behavioural Therapy – Enhanced) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) for binge eating.
Peaceful Mind Psychology also offers group therapy for eating disorders and information sessions for carers and families. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.