Disclaimer/ PTW: This post talks about eating disorders. However no specific behaviours, calories or weights are mentioned.
Christmas is often described by mental health bloggers and the media as one of the most difficult times of the year for those who suffer with mental health conditions. As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder for the past 7 years on and off, and other MH conditions, I can only agree with this. However, I also now love Christmas, I’m literally obsessed with it! This is because I have been able to find strategies to make it easier. When I think of Christmas, I think of spending time with the family, playing with my gorgeous dogs and winning scrabble…every time!
Saying this though, it hasn’t always been this way. Unfortunately, no matter how you look at it, food is a massive part of Christmas. Before Christmas, most TV adverts are advertising food, every day you get an advent chocolate, and on Christmas day there is usually what seems like endless amounts of food! This usually happens when my mum forgets that there are only 4 of us in the family, and not 14. You know how mums are; every other food shop in December is specifically for Christmas and you can’t touch what they’ve bought until Christmas day! Unfortunately, because of this excessive focus on food, there have been many years within the last 22 that have been quite difficult. But that’s okay. I’ve learnt many a way to make Christmas day and the weeks surrounding it a hell of a lot easier, so hopefully I’ll be able to share some of what I’ve learnt!
I guess what I am about to write could be useful for both someone who perhaps has disordered eating, but also for those who are supporting them!
- One of the most useful tactics over Christmas to alleviate anxiety, is to make a plan, and to communicate that plan early. Plan with whoever you’ll spending Christmas with, if that’s possible. For me, speaking to my parents or grandparents about what we’re having for food is really useful, as it means I don’t get any surprises on the day. It also gives me the opportunity to input my ideas and tell whoever is cooking what I am and am not comfortable with. Sometimes it can help to be part of the cooking process on the day too, so ask if you are able to help prepare!
- Another thing to remember is that although there is a big focus on food, you don’t have to eat any more than you usually would. There is no rule that says you have to eat more at Christmas. Eat what you feel comfortable with, that’s okay.
- Something else that I personally find helpful is distractions while eating, especially if you are having a sit-down meal. Put on some Christmas tunes, and talk about subjects other than food! There are so many other things to be talking about. Distraction is especially important after meals too, particularly in the first hour after finishing as this is when you’re most likely going to get disordered thoughts to binge or purge. Surround yourself with people, play a game, have a cup of tea and a chat!
- Communication!! On the most part, communication is the most important aspect. Speak to your family and friends. Let them know that you’re struggling a little bit, and ask for support. If you feel unable to talk to someone in your family about your struggles, arrange to check in with someone on the phone during the day, and have a little debrief at the end of the day with them- super useful (I still do this)!
- For those of you supporting someone with an eating disorder, it might be useful to think about doing a Christmas buffet rather than a sit-down meal. This takes a lot of pressure off someone, and makes the whole day a lot more casual- therefore reducing stress! You’ll find that people are completely okay with serving themselves with what they want and when they want, plus is puts a twist on a traditional Christmas day!
- This next one is super important. I cannot stress this enough. Please please please, refrain from diet and negative food talk. It’s not useful for anyone, never mind someone who is already having disordered thoughts about eating and food! Stop talking about how much weight you are going to need to lose. Stop talking about the food being ‘bad’- there is no such thing as bad food! Please stop openly talking about calories- who cares!! Why ruin a perfectly happy day unnecessarily? I’ve never really understood the diet talk at any point in the year, but especially at Christmas!
Please remember, it’s okay not to be okay. Christmas can be tough, and that’s not something to be ashamed of. So many people struggle with Christmas for many different reasons. It’s not just you, so don’t feel guilty. Be gentle with yourself, you deserve it! Christmas isn’t all about the food, it’s about SO SO much more. Focus on that if you can.
BEAT, the eating disorder charity have helplines open over Christmas from 4pm-8pm from December 24th– 1st Jan. Please use them if you need them, they’re incredible and have a fountain of knowledge on how to deal with breakdowns over a roast dinner…believe me, I know!
Keep talking, Keep Loving,
Have a very Merry Christmas x