When I think about Christmas so many words come to mind. Family. Joy. Food. Relaxing. Love. But for me during the worst of my ED, these were all the things my eating disorder struggled with.
Tensions in relationships, anxiety around food, and self-loathing made the holiday time so difficult. I have always loved Christmas and even through the darkest years I still found a sparkle in this time of year.
I could remember back to when things were normal, easy and happy. But Christmas became challenging when my Eating Disorder was in control. More chocolates, sweets and ‘bad foods’ made me anxious, especially with my family watching to made sure I ate every crumb. I felt closely observed by those around me who knew of my ED behaviours and this just added to my own stress. But mainly I felt I was letting them down, like I was adding a burden onto them during the usually joyful season. I tried to avoid these situations by keeping busy working, staying away or going to bed early.
Four years into my eating disorder I was in hospital during the Christmas period. This was the saddest Christmas of my life. I was let out for a temporary visit during Christmas day and I remember being so sad the whole day knowing I was going home. It was also so stressful for my parents to monitor me and make sure I was adequately eating. I remember crying on the way home begging they would let me come home with them. Since this point I have only gone up and have luckily reached a stage of recovery.
Christmas is so much more relaxed now and its honestly better than it was before. I value that time and day so much more now that I’m well, happy and much more carefree. Now when I remember back to my Christmas’s I recall the good things that happened much more than the bad. I remember visiting the Christmas lights, sitting around the table in my family’s orchard and receiving a warm hug from my Aunty after I gave her a homemade present, more than I remember what and how much I ate. In retrospect it was these connections, laughs and glimmers of hope that came out of the Christmas period more than the food I consumed. But in the moment, it does feel like a day of dread where there is food and calories galore. Looking back now my family and I thought about some ways to manage the holiday time better:
- Plan! I remember discussing my concerns about Christmas with my treatment team. Use your team and the team at EDV to help you with negative thoughts and worries about the Christmas period to develop strategies to deal with worries about food, events and family. It is hard seeing family members after a period of time as they may comment on your weight, your lifestyle or future plans. It is so great to have a predeveloped response to this as it will help reduce the anxiety as unfortunately sometimes people will say the wrong thing.
- How to fill your plate – With a Christmas day buffet it can be hard to fill your plate as you may be exposed to fear foods or worry you will be overeating. As Christmas can be a challenging day already (minus the food stresses), perhaps try and stick to eating enough of your safer foods that you may have discussed previously with a dietician. If you are worried about quantities, perhaps get a trusted and understanding family member to prepare your plate to avoid the anxiety of having to serve yourself. You could even bring your own food that is on your meal plan. It is important to ensure you are eating but it does not mean you have to challenge those fear foods on Christmas day. Alternatively, if you are feeling stronger why not try a scarier food? You may find that you will feel more comfortable as everyone is eating the same thing.
- (For parents and family members) – Try to relax. Through my ED my parents and family really expected and drove for a linear recovery where I was always progressing forward. In reality this is hard! When in my lowest times it was bursts of normality that helped me see hope that recovery was possible and that I could once again enjoy Christmas. Recovery will be up and down and that’s okay. Christmas day may not necessarily be a win for overcoming your behaviours but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a win for recovery by providing a sense of hope and joy in your life.
- Dealing with unhelpful comments – Over Christmas time people may also comment on their own eating and weight issues. It is common for people to say things like ‘I’m not eating before Christmas lunch’ or to talk about diets and cutting back food after the holiday season. It is essential that you are aware of your own journey and focus on you and try to not be influenced by other people. Everyone is in their own journey and it is important to focus on yours. Maybe have a debrief after with someone you trust- a psychologist, family member, friend- about any negative thoughts or unhelpful behaviours. Verbalising these may help!
If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be to be kind to yourself during the holiday period. Remind yourself you are in no way a burden and your family show concern because they care. One day it will get easier, but always know it’s okay not to be okay on Christmas.
Contributed by Claire, EDV Lived Experience Ambassador