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Coping at Christmas – Supporting someone with an eating disorder

Understand that the person with an eating disorders (PWED) may start anticipating Christmas weeks in advance. The PWED may become more rigid in the weeks leading up to Christmas, or the ED behaviours may become worse. If you notice this happening think about having a conversation about it so you can help your person to identify what is triggering this, and collaborate on ways of helping to reduce anticipation and stress.

Help your person to reduce anxiety and fears:

  • Let them know that you are aware Christmas might be causing anxiety and that you are available to help them in any way you can
  • Have a conversation about Christmas:
  • What do they hope their Christmas will be like?
  • What are their fears?
  • What parts of the day are they most worried about?
  • Can you help with any of this?
  • What, for you, is important for Christmas and can you meet in the middle?
  • Sometimes you can support by helping the person to stay in the ‘here and now’ in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas

Helpful way of thinking: if you look after yourself today the future will look after itself!

Planning Christmas Day:

  • Think through what the plans and obligations are for the Christmas period.
  • Talk these through with your PWED and work out with them what parts, if any, they may need support with, or need to be allowed to opt out if they feel like it
  • It helps if the day has a structure and especially an eating structure – it can be hard for a PWED if all the normal mealtimes are turned upside down – try to help your PWED to stick to their normal eating schedule, this will help them manage the day better.
  • Who is doing the cooking? Who will be at the meal? When will the meal be? What will be eaten? These are all questions that your PWED may be worrying about. If you have a conversation about how the day will happen then you are more likely to help reduce your PWED’s anxiety about the day and make it more manageable – and more enjoyable – for everyone!
  • If you can, be an ally! When there are bigger groups gathering, sometimes a PWED can feel, and anticipate feeling, very overwhelmed and open to panic. If they know they have an ally (maybe you or another member of the family) they may feel more comfortable and able to participate more in the day.

Comments from others on food, eating, appearance:

We can never ensure completely that somebody won’t comment on the food, what everyone is eating, or people’s appearances. If you can, ask family not to comment!

But it is also helpful to anticipate comments. Think about how you can help your PWED to cope with this. If you are unsure ask your PWED what they would find helpful.

Be aware that the time following Christmas can also bring high levels of anxiety and distress: routines are relaxed, days don’t have the normal structure, and everyone is more present at home. You may be able to help your person by providing some structure and routine to days, even if this is just around normal eating times. Again have a conversation with your PWED so that you can ask them what they find difficult and if you can help them in some way.

Diet talk

It is hard to avoid diet talk in the run up to Christmas and as January begins. Being aware that your PWED can find this extremely difficult is a start to helping them cope with it. Be aware of yourself, your language around your own eating and your own eating behaviours. In as much as you can try to avoid the diet talk or changing your own eating behaviours significantly.


Christmas is just one day, no matter how it goes, it does end. Even if things change to make it easier for your PWED this year, remember that it won’t always be like this – Recovery is possible.