Whilst there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, Eating Disorders Victoria has put together some of our top tips from people who know what it’s like to go through Christmas and the festive season when you have an eating disorder.
1. Be open with your loved ones to manage expectations
It might be good idea to sit down with your family or friends and have a conversation to manage expectations prior to the festive season. Try telling them your worries and fears, whether it be about being surrounded by food, comments about how you look, disruption to your regular meal patterns, etc. By voicing your worries with the people in your life it can help them be realistic and manage their own expectations around group meals and eating together.
What about that pesky uncle who always has something inappropriate to say? Extended family can be a source of stress at Christmas, for many reasons not only related to eating disorders! Consider sending a message or letter to relatives prior to Christmas functions that highlights the importance of keeping conversations safe at Christmas. This might include things such as:
please don’t make any appearance based comments, even if you think it’s a compliment
please don’t comment on what I’m eating
please refrain from discussing your new year’s diet
If you don’t feel comfortable sending this message, ask a trusted family member or friend to send it.
2. Prepare for whatever safe means to you
Preparing for events during the festive season can help reduce unexpected surprises. Knowing who is going to be at lunch/dinner and knowing what’s on the menu beforehand can help you plan ahead. Having some of your safe foods as part of the menu could be reassuring when seeing food laid out. This might mean asking the host to have certain foods included, or bringing something of your own to contribute. If you have trusted supports there on the day, it could be a good idea to have a signal with your support person that lets them know you need a break from the festivities.
3. Focus the day around other things besides food
Remind yourself to look at the bigger picture and remember that there’s more to the festive season than just the food – it’s also a time to share memories and joy together and spend quality time with your loved ones. You could try creating a fun theme, like getting everyone to wear a silly shirt on the day. This could take the stress and anxiety off appearance based comments. You might find it soothing to put on music during the meal to relax yourself. Planning an activity such as playing board games or watching a film after the Christmas meal could also be a good distraction to take your mind off food.
4. Be involved in the planning for Christmas
Involving yourself in the planning for Christmas can be a good distraction. You could get involved by putting up Christmas decorations, helping with the table setting and having your say on what’s on the menu. Setting the table yourself helps you prepare for who will sit next to you. Speaking of planning, you might want to have some pre-planned responses ready to go if you receive unhelpful or uncomfortable comments from loved ones. For example, if someone comments that you look different, you might respond with “That might be true, but it’s still the same me inside.”
5. Acknowledge urges and know you can get through them
Even with the best preparation, there may be triggers that make you want to engage in unhealthy behaviours. Acknowledging that you’re having an urge can help put some distance between yourself and the unhelpful thought, and give you space to come up with your next steps. You might decide to go for a walk around the block, call someone you trust or even take yourself off for a nap. Kids are also a great distraction. If there are children at your gathering, you might spend some time playing with their new toys or coming up with a fun game.
6. Take some time to soothe yourself
This time of year can be very overwhelming for anyone so it’s important to remind yourself to take some time at gathering and events to soothe yourself, replenish and practice some self-care. This could be going for a walk, doing some mindfulness and meditation, reading a book in the garden, etc. Nourish your soul in whatever way that works for you. It might also help to have a mantra to self-soothe and ground yourself in stressful situations such as “Today I’ll be kind to myself.”
Remember, Christmas is just another day of the year so be kind and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Whatever you can do for yourself on the day, however small, should be considered an achievement and something to be proud of.