Dietitian Dani's tips for navigating the festive season - Eating Disorders Victoria
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This article comes from EDV’s Peer Mentoring Program Alumni Newsletter. To learn more about the Peer Mentoring Program, please see here.

Dietitian Dani's tips for navigating the festive season

With the festive season quickly approaching, it can become a time for many, where certain emotions arise such as anxiety, overwhelm, panic, guilt, shame and fear. These feelings may even pop-up months prior to the holiday season. Although we may truly want to just be able to enjoy our time, it can be difficult as the festive season is a time that is focused around food and social interactions. Additionally, it is can be a busy time of year with little to no down time.  We may find ourselves sitting in the unknown, the unknown of how we are going to navigate certain occasions regarding food, socializing and changes to our usual routine.  

We can explore some ways in which you may be able to guide yourself and your loved ones through the festive season so that you can take the power back from your eating disorder (ED) and choose how you want to spend your holidays.

I would like to invite you to think about implementing strategies as early as possible. This may help you in feeling more in control and supported during festive events. And remember, gently introducing strategies one step at a time can help support you building your tool box and coping plan to stabilize ED thoughts and behaviors.  

Write it down

Try acknowledging and writing down emotions and thoughts are coming up for you. This activity can help you identify which situations are causing you distress. Being able to identify these potential triggers can actually empower you to take greater control over the festive period.

Once these situations have been identified, you can note alternative coping strategies that you may implement in order to reduce the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. This may also include potential unhelpful comments from family members and friends. You can begin to prepare potential responses to these comments, assisting you in feeling more prepared. You may also like to discuss this with your therapist prior to festive events. 

If it feels comfortable for you, have a think about tuning into your ED voice. Are you able to write down the internal dialogue it is telling you? You may wish to write this down these unhelpful thoughts down and then write a helpful response to that thought. You may wish to call this response “My Healthy Self” or whatever resonates best with you. This method of externalizing the ED can help empower you to take more control over your thoughts, emotions and therefore actions, particularly around the festive season.  

Getting in touch with your support system

Touching base with your support system can be a really important tool in helping to navigate the festive season. These supports may be family, friends or your therapists. You may be able to share how you are feeling regarding changes to your routine, eating schedule and navigating comments that may be made by family and friends. Leaning in on these supports can help you feel safer and more prepared for situations which may occur. It may also be an idea to have a support person on the day who you can confide in when an unconformable situation occurs or if you need some time out for a chat. They may be with you on the day or it could be someone you can call. It may even be engaging with your support person to plan and include a challenge food that you may really want to enjoy 

Formulate a plan, with some flexibility

It can be challenging to navigate the amounts of food, variety and changing times for Christmas meals. Having clarity around what you are doing on Christmas day and other days during the festive period, supports you in providing practical expectations and control on how to navigate yourself. This may translate into being aware of where you will be, what times and also who you will be with. It may also help guide you in being aware of what food will be served.  

Planning to the best of your ability, what you will eat and around what times, may support and reflect your usual eating patterns which can help stabilize your blood sugar levels. It can also help you feel safe. Anticipate some flexibility regarding meal times and food choices so that your expectations are not too rigid, which can help reduce anxiety levels also.  

Being involved with the preparation of Christmas

Getting involved with the various aspects of Christmas may help take the focus off feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. It may help distract negative emotions and allow you to focus on positive aspects of the festive season. There are a variety of ways that you may wish to involve yourself during Christmas such as decorating, wrapping presents, organizing music and menu planning. You may even like to consider preparing your own safe foods to bring along for the day.  

Embracing all aspects of Christmas

Although food can be a large focus on Christmas Day, you may like to identify some aspects that you might enjoy engaging yourself in. Give yourself permission to enjoy the festive season even with anxieties that may be present. This may be spending time with friends and family and making memories.  

Self-care

Although you may have a plan put in place to navigate the festive season, things may still become overwhelming, which is okay. You may wish to consider some self-care techniques to navigate difficult situations and/or emotions. You may also like to try them out prior to Christmas Day to see which resonates with you best. The following suggestions can also be used as a distraction technique before, during and/or after a meal to take your mind off food. 

  • Set a daily intention for Christmas day and the days following. This can help you focus on a helpful thought or feelings to help keep you aligned with how you want to feel. It may be an intention saved on your phone as a screen saver, or even kept if your bag to look at when needed. An intention example may be “I treat myself with care” or “My needs matter”.  
  • Mindfulness & Meditation: There are lots of supportive free apps which you can try. Some examples are: Headspace, InsightTimer, Calm, The Mindfullness App 
  • Breathing Exercise: Sit in a quiet place and breath in for 3 seconds and out for 4 seconds. Repeat 5 times. You can even practice this in front of people whilst keeping your eyes open.  
  • Journalling: I can be helpful to write down your thoughts and feelings, particularly closer to Christmas Day. This can bring awareness to how you are feeling and support you in formulating helpful thoughts or plans moving forward. 

Even though the festive season can be a tricky time of year to navigate, know it’s okay to feel the uncomfortable feelings which may arise. It is only one day of the year, and even if things do not go to plan, remind yourself that “this too, shall pass”. Be proud that you are navigating your way through doing what’s best to nourish your mind and body. 

Danielle Defina

Accredited Practising Dietitian
Bachelor of Science (Nutrition)
Master of Science (Dietetics)

Danielle Defina is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian with a special interest in Eating Disorders and Paediatric Nutrition. Danielle has worked across Melbourne within private practice, community health and disability services.

Danielle’s career in health and wellness started when she realised the importance of a healthy relationship with food. After recovering from an eating disorder, Danielle had a vision to help those develop a positive mindset when it came to food and nutrition, and achieving their health and wellness goals. She is a mother of two young girls and absolutely loves working closely with individuals and families, providing ongoing support.

Danielle has a mission of providing wholistic and integrative nutrition care. She endeavours to empower individuals and families into beginning a new journey of health and happiness by providing the knowledge and tools to make life long sustainable changes to diet and lifestyle, whilst also building a healthy relationship with food. She has a strong passion in working with individuals to develop healthy eating habits, and to reject the notion of our diet culture.

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