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Coping at Christmas – Living with an Eating Disorder

Coping with Christmas

The Christmas period can be particularly challenging for those affected by eating disorders. The build up to the season, changes in routine, expectations around socialising and food can contribute to stress, pressure and conflicted thoughts and feelings.

Thoughts and feelings

Time alone can bring up a mixture of feelings. Be mindful of becoming isolated and try to stay in touch with someone if you can.

Be aware of the ‘all or nothing’ thought patterns that can create unrealistic and rigid expectations. It is not about eating everything or eating nothing. It is about listening to yourself, knowing that it is OK to have what you want, remembering that it is only one day and nothing awful will happen if you change the rules, and remembering that Christmas is not all about food. Food is only one part, and it is something that you can enjoy, but may require a little planning.

Christmas is a time that the eating disorder thoughts and feelings may wish to punish you. The nature of an eating disorder is such that it wants you to feel afraid and anxious so that you stick to its rules even more. Try to quiet the thoughts in your head by not allowing it to take over, and think about what you need to do to help with this.

For example:

  • Try not to expect too much – either of yourself or others, or even of the day – and you will avoid feeling disappointed.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t be hard on yourself. Be mindful of your inner critic.
Routine and planning
  • Try not to let the idea of Christmas dictate the days and weeks running up to it.
  • Try not to anticipate too much what Christmas day will be like.
  • Try not to let the anticipation of Christmas day change how you are currently eating.  The eating disorder thoughts might try to use the idea of Christmas day as a way of stopping you eating now. If this is happening try to be aware of that, and allow yourself to focus on how things are now and not let Christmas stop you from doing this.
  • If you have a daily routine, try to find a balance between sticking to this on Christmas day and also allowing for some flexibility. Ask yourself, ‘what do I need to do to make my Christmas day enjoyable and not make me panic?’
  • Going home for Christmas may result in feeling out of control or a feeling of being less independent. If you are accessing a professional support service, try to explore your concerns and coping strategies in the lead up to Christmas.
  • Do plan ahead and try to involve those people in your household that you rely on for support to help with this.
  • Try to negotiate ways of having your needs met in advance of Christmas day to prevent anxiety and stress.
  • Try to ease the stress by identifying what might make things less stressful for you. Write out a list and share it with your family if you think this will make the day feel safer for you.
  • Arrange that whoever is doing the cooking knows that you need to have some control over what you eat. If you are not in charge of cooking, try to state that you prefer to have some input into food preparation, if possible/suitable.
  • Think back to how you have coped with previous events and activities that have had an emphasis on food. Try to plan ahead to manage negative thinking.
  • Think about how you might respond if someone comments on your food plan or habits. Try to think of a response that feels safe to say, but is not defensive. Example: “It’s important for me to be able to manage things at my own pace at this moment”, or, “If I am allowed to manage some things, it will help me to feel less stressed”.
Understandably, you may become anxious about talking to someone. Try to keep the lines of communication open. Acknowledge that this time of year may heighten your stress around food and let others know this can be difficult for you. Try to speak to someone you confide in.

The post-Christmas period can also be stressful and isolating, in part due to the emphasis on diets and New Year resolutions. Think about having a support structure in place and try to plan for potential stress that may arise.

  • We have developed ‘Coping with Christmas’ resources for people living with an eating disorder at this time of year. Click on the image below to download the resource.