Celebrating Christmas With An Eating Disorder
A difficult time of year doesn’t mean you can’t have fun
Tis the season! The air is colder (here in the UK at least), and it nibbles at my nose, making me appreciate a hot mug of steaming hot chocolate at the end of the day. There are lights twinkling in the night sky reminding me of fairies and magic.
I can easily slip back to being a child again, with all of the childish wonders, and it’s beautiful.
I love getting together with loved ones, celebrating what we have and being thankful for being together.
But, although I have always loved the holiday season, I have also often feared it.
You see, for 14 years I battled with anorexia nervosa, and so, a season where everyone celebrates with food and drink can be very terrifying. At first, I just tried to pretend, or hide things, which just led to feeling miserable and everyone tip toeing around me. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Yes, during times of feasts and treats and merry drinking, an eating disorder can rear it’s ugly head big time! And you probably will have anxiety, I won’t pretend that you won’t.
But this doesn’t mean you have to hide away from the festivities, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t still have bundles of fun.
And so, I thought I would share a few tips that I have found helpful over the years, that I hope might also help you to manage your illness and recovery enough whilst still having a great holiday season.
- Plan ahead
Spontaneity is difficult at the best of times, let alone when food was thrown into the mix. Knowing what the plans were during celebrations helped me to manage my anxiety better because I knew what to expect.
If you are going to a party and you’re not sure what to expect, you can text ahead and just say that you have dietary needs, or you can ask what you can contribute to the meal. Often you will a get a reply letting you know what to expect such as ‘we are having a buffet…’ or ‘Thank you but I am cooking…I have it all sorted.’
Intuitive eating is certainly the goal for recovery eventually, but sticking to a meal plan in the meantime is really helpful in recovery. Just be mindful that the pre-planning is to reduce your anxieties around the unknown, not to help you compensate at other meals.
2. Get your team involved
If you have a medical team involved with your care, speak with them about some useful things you can do, and make a plan to help you with how to get through the festivities.
If you don’t have a medical team (or in addition to), I highly recommend talking with a friend or family member who can support you to make plans, and somebody who can check in with you during this busy time of celebrations.
3. Self care is important
Although Christmas can be so much fun, there’s no denying it, it’s a big attack on the senses. There’s lights and music, cheering, rich foods, and more socializing than we would usually have. And with this it can be easy to push ourselves too much and burn out. One way of managing this is to have a self care plan.
Factor in regular breaks with whatever you are doing. Ensure you do something just for you in your downtime. If there are many requests to socialize and you feel it will be too much, prioritize events. You are not obligated to go to all of them. You are only human. Pace yourself.
4. You don’t have to see people if they make you feel uncomfortable
This is a fact that has taken me a long time to make peace with. But we all have that one person, or know somebody who has that person in their family that they dread seeing. This person can range from just being a bit boring, making people feel uncomfortable, to being actually abusive. But we still see them because we feel obligated to. After all, they are family.
But being family is never an excuse for people to make you feel bad. Nobody has that right. And you are important. Being comfortable at any time of year is important. So, if you have that somebody in your life who you are anxious to see, don’t see them. You can just tell them you are double booked, or unwell if you have to. But you don’t have to subject yourself to such negativity. Especially if it means it could affect your eating.
5. Come back into the room
I’m not sure if other people experience this, but I have been told that at mealtimes I used to go in on myself and it’s like I am not even there. I realised that I am looking at my food, focusing on food rules so much that I forget where I am sometimes and forget to actually participate. I started being more mindful of this, so that if I catch myself doing this I will raise my head and focus on what people are saying. You have a right to be a part of the festivities and not just a spectator. Don’t forget to be there.
6. Wear what makes you feel comfortable
How many of us put on those shoes because they look awesome, but we can’t actually walk in? Or squeeze into an outfit only to restrict our eating because it’s getting tighter?
For me it was usually a corset, because I love the Gothic vibe. But then I would find myself panicking that I had eaten too much because I could feel my belly grow a little. This isn’t due to overeating though. It’s a natural occurrence when eating. Our tummies change throughout the day for all sorts of reasons that are all completely normal. Especially when laced into something that doesn’t allow for much room. But our ED can play up and tell us it’s something else. So, why not make things a little easier for ourselves?
We all want to dress up and look our best at this time of year, but this doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our comfort to do so. I think this is even more important when you are in ED recovery because you are already hyper fixated on any type of body changes. So, by all means, wear something that makes you feel good, but also factor in comfort. Try not to wear something tight or that you can’t adjust around your tummy.
7. Have fun!
Unfortunately, eating disorders don’t go away for Christmas, and it can be easy to let it get in the way. And then, while we are planning to make sure we can manage recovery during celebrations, we can get sucked into so much planning we forget to do the most important thing. Having fun!
Things may get a little too much at times, you may need to step out and take a few deep breaths, but don’t forget to join in the games, to laugh, and sing. You deserve to be a part of the fun just as much as everyone else.
I hope these help. They are from my own experiences, so do feel free to share what works for you in the comments. I am a big believer in supporting each other with our recovery journeys.
Whatever you do this holiday season, I wish you a fantastic time.