Eating disorders and Christmas: How to cope

Therese Ekevid

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Christmas is just around the corner, and while many are planning what presents to buy, looking forward to seeing their families and eating, many are dreading the upcoming holiday. If you’re suffering from an eating disorder the joy of Christmas dinner with the family may become an internal torture.

Christmas dinner, a joyful occasion to some (Photo Credit: Simon Doggett @Flickr).
Christmas dinner, a joyful occasion to some (Photo Credit: Simon Doggett @Flickr).

Many experience a great deal of anxiety at the thought of not being in control of their food intake, being judged by family members, etc. Bodywhys, Ireland’s voluntary support organization for those suffering from eating disorders, has provided the public with a special section for the holidays called ‘Coping with Christmas’.

”The build up to the season, changes in routine, expectations around socialising and food can contribute to stress, pressure and conflicted thoughts and feelings.”

Christmas and food can trigger anxiety (Photo Credit: Ryan Melaugh @Flickr).
Christmas and food can trigger anxiety (Photo Credit: Ryan Melaugh @Flickr).

I asked a friend of mine who recovered from her battle with eating disorders a few years ago about her Christmas recollections.

“I would say, looking back at it, that you’re torn between spending Christmas with your family, where food is a huge part of the celebration, the way you’ve always spent it, along with the anxiety and planning around your eating. You’re aware that your family is expecting you to eat and you have everyone’s attention on you while you’re trying to “plan” how to escape or participate as little as possible without it ending in conflict. It’s very much an internal battle.”

BodyWhys provides tips and strategies to cope during the holidays. One is to focus on the fact that Christmas is just one day out of the year, where food is only one part of the day. Breaking the rules on that one day doesn’t mean anything bad will happen to you. The levels of anxiety of breaking the rules may be bigger than other throughout the year, but this is just the eating disorder’s way of trying to scare you, try to quiet those thoughts.

The feeling of "breaking the rules" can become overwhelming (Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography @Flickr).
The feeling of “breaking the rules” can become overwhelming (Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography @Flickr).

Some hands-on tips they offer are:

  • Try not to let the idea of Christmas dictate the days and weeks running up to it.
  • If you have a daily routine, try to find a balance between sticking to this on Christmas day and also allowing for some flexibility. Ask yourself, ‘what do I need to do to make my Christmas day enjoyable and not make me panic?’
  • Try to ease the stress by identifying what might make things less stressful for you. Write out a list and share it with your family if you think this will make the day feel safer for you.
  • The post-Christmas period can also be stressful and isolating, in part due to the emphasis on diets and New Year resolutions. Think about having a support structure in place and try to plan for potential stress that may arise.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t be hard on yourself. Be mindful of your inner critic.

Although eating disorders are very common, it’s still not talked about enough and many experience shame when speaking of it. Make sure you don’t pressure anyone into anything they don’t want to do and be supportive and conscious of other’s feelings. And whatever you do let this be the one time of the year without diet, workout or “treat” talk for the sake of everyone.

To find more information on eating disorders for yourself or a loved one please visit Bodywhys.ie

You can call their LoCall helpline at 1890 200 444

Or e-mail them for support at: alex@bodywhys.ie

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Therese Ekevid