How do you navigate the holiday season with an eating disorder? Whether you are living with the eating disorder or caring for someone with an eating disorder, let’s face it, the holidays can cause stress which tends to worsen disordered eating and place strain on relationships.
First, cut yourself some slack, and acknowledge ahead of time that there will be moments when you feel out of control. Dealing with the holiday season can often mean feeling obliged to do things you don’t like, so it’s important to plan your own diversions and not feel as though you have no choice.
Tips for people experiencing an eating disorder
Telephone the Eating Disorders Helpline on 1300 550 236 to talk about your concerns.
Identify a support person who is available to listen to your concerns when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Plan ahead with your treatment team so you have strategies to use while they are away.
Be honest about where you are in recovery and identify your triggers ahead of time.
If the holidays remind you of grief and loss, remember to take a moment to honour and celebrate someone you may be missing. It's OK to enjoy the holidays.
Travelling away from home can be stressful. Plan strategies that will support you while you're away. Prepare resources which you can access from your destination, such as websites, phone numbers or books.
Food oriented functions
Prepare a plan when attending food functions. If invited somewhere that may provide triggers, give yourself permission to attend for a short time and leave early if you wish to.
If you aren't comfortable eating at an event, eat something healthy and delicious before you attend the event. This will avoid you feeling hungry and also assists you to not overeat.
If you don't know what food will be served at an event, enquire beforehand to reduce your anxiety. If appropriate, you could offer to take 'safe' food to share so you will feel comfortable that there is something you can eat.
Remember all eyes will not be watching how much or how little you eat; usually people are too busy enjoying their own meal and chatting.
Many people overeat on Christmas Day and often comment on the quantity they have eaten. Remember their comments are not aimed at you.
Throughout the day take time out to relax — listen to your favourite music, talk to a trusted person, go for a walk with a family member or friend or sit in the garden soaking up the atmosphere.
Consider using some Mindful Eating techniques to reduce the likelihood of mindless eating during the day.
The holiday season can be a stressful time for families. For some families, it may be the one time of year they all get together. You may be nervous about comments on your appearance, or anxiety-provoking questions about your life and plans.
Plan and discuss family visits and what may happen in advance. Think of responses you may give when meeting family members or friends you haven't seen for a while. Practice saying these out loud.
If someone makes a comment about your appearance, remember that most of the time people are coming from a place of positive intention and encouragement.
If you are expecting to be part of a large family gathering, plan what you will do to give yourself 'time out' from the crowd.
Give yourself permission to experience your own emotions on the day. Remember you don't have to be happy and smile all the time - no one expects it.
Work, school, university
Over the holiday period you may have some time off from school, work or university. This provides a great opportunity to engage in some activities you haven't tried before. Be proactive, and try initiating activity suggestions for your group of friends.
On the other hand, you may find your workload increasing and becoming more stressful. If this occurs, your supervisor or manager may be able to help you.
You may be receiving results from school or university, or applying for further study. Remember if you didn't achieve what you wanted that they are always other pathways. Focus on what you have achieved rather than what you haven't. Your grades do not define your worth.
Around December there tends to be many social functions. Look at these as an opportunity to increase your social connectedness and a chance to start conversations by stepping outside your comfort zone.
Summer can be full of unhelpful messages about dieting and fashion which may be triggering or stressful. Try to avoid unhelpful websites and magazines, and focus on more body positive media.
Summer often means more revealing clothes. You may find you feel uncomfortable wearing summer clothes or beach wear. Try not to compare your body with others; one person's attractiveness does not detract from your own! Try instead to focus on enjoying the moment; whether it's feeling the sun on your back, the sand on your toes, or the coolness of the water.
Tips for carers
Plan ahead - it can be helpful to give family and friends information to help them understand more about eating disorders.
Tensions often increase in the holiday season for many family members, reducing their ability to communicate and listen effectively. To help overcome this, use calm, caring, compassionate and clear communication with yourself and others. Try to consider what feelings may be behind an abrupt response, an angry outburst or their inability to be on time.
It is important not to place unrealistic expectations on any family member or on yourself. Try to remember and accept that everyone deals with situations, emotions and feelings in different ways, it will enable everyone to relax a little. You don’t necessarily have to ‘fix’ or ‘rescue’ them.
It is best to actively avoid talking about dieting, or making weight or appearance related comments about anyone. Messages of love, care and joy are what we all need.
If you can, take the focus off food and instead try simply enjoying time together.
Lastly, it is important for carers to take time out themselves for celebrations, however difficult this may be.
And some New Year resolutions for all
Don't buy in to the season's "fat talk", emphasis on diets, or New Year's weight-loss resolutions. Food has no moral value - it is not "good" or "bad". Try to stay away from these sorts of conversations.
Use New Year's resolutions as an opportunity for sensible goal setting. Try to keep your goals small, achievable and important to you. If you meet your goal, you can always set another one later on!
Set healthy boundaries. Learn to say no when you don’t want to do something, don’t have enough time, or are too stressed out with everything else going on in your life. Make yourself a priority and it’s important that you have boundaries.
You are invited to participate in an anonymous survey that aims to examine the use of various dating approaches such as traditional dating, online websites and mobile dating apps and their relationship to body image and eating behaviour.