Tips for surviving the festive period with an eating disorder

TW// Eating disorders

Navigating life with disordered eating is hard enough at the best of times, but the added pressures of the festive season can exacerbate these struggles.

With its Christmas parties, disruption of routines and expectations of excess, those of us who struggle with our relationship with food can find it a particularly difficult time of year. In addition to this, large gatherings, that seemingly revolve around food, can put a lot of pressure on those who struggle to eat in front of others.

In my family, as in many, the Christmas dinner is discussed months in advance. What size turkey will we have? How many different vegetables shall we have cooked in a multitude of ways? Make sure you don’t forget the swede again this year! This can make the dinner table feel like a minefield of triggers.

For many of us this intense period of social interaction can be stressful and triggering and for this reason, it is vital to remind ourselves of a few things as we head into December.

Firstly, it is important to set boundaries.

Boundaries enable us to protect our inner peace from external forces, allowing us to prioritise our mental health and recovery over the happiness of others. While this may feel tricky - and sometimes even unnatural – healthy boundaries are one way in which we can make navigating the festive period that little bit easier.

For me, as for many struggling with an eating disorder, any feelings of self-hatred or guilt can quickly result in a cycle of restriction, bingeing and purging. For that reason, it is important to acknowledge that other people’s comments about food and body image have far more to do with themselves than you.

So, when that old family friend feels the need to comment on your body or appearance – gently remind them that it's none of their business whether you are looking like ‘you’ve lost a little weight’.

That Aunt or Uncle who reminds you constantly about how guilty they feel for eating one too many pigs in blankets – ignore them.

That school friend who won’t stop talking about the new diet they are going to try in the New Year – simply tell them that you’d rather change the topic and discuss something unrelated to food, body, and weight.

In addition to these boundaries, it is equally important to establish a support system.

Confiding in those you trust can make this time of year feel less daunting. Though it is easier said than done, sharing your struggles allows you to access support when you need it and enables you to explain what others can do to make this time easier for you.

Furthermore, the Christmas period can be particularly hard for those with or recovering from an eating disorder since it often causes a disruption to everyday routines and mealtimes.

Considering this it is important to maintain an eating routine if possible - avoiding restriction - giving your body the nourishment it needs and deserves. By creating a support system around you, you can make maintaining a level of structure simpler, helping you to navigate this tricky time.

Lastly, be patient and understanding towards your body.

Above all it is important to trust your body and give it what its craving. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge what you are feeling. Allow your self space if you need it and avoid the pressure to have a ‘perfect Christmas’.

Remove the idea of treating food as a "reward" and having to spend weeks after Christmas trying to get rid of "holiday weight". Remember food is not only for sustenance, it is to be enjoyed - as is Christmas.

Additionally, its also important to keep in mind that Christmas isn’t just about the food. It is equally critical to acknowledge and appreciate the other aspects of this time of year that make it so special – the time to relax, unwind and spend with family and friends.