It's now November [what the ..?! How'd that happen...] and in my family that's a cue for premature Christmas songs and getting busy in the kitchen making lots of Christmas goodies!
Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, and let's face it what's Christmas without the amazing array of food.
The warm comforting smells sum up Winter, and spark nostalgic memories; Christmas evenings filled with games, music and laughter.
This hasn't always been the case for me though. The years spent battling anorexia turned Christmas joys into Christmas fears. Christmases spent anxious in tears. Christmases on meal plans, worried and concerned about every spoonful to come, every meal out, and dreading every party.
For those suffering with an eating disorder Christmas can be a serious time for struggles and set backs.
Coming into my fifth year of recovery it is lovely to be able to once again embrace the season's festivities. Over the years I have learnt to hold a more realistic and educated perspective by continuously, and immediately, challenging faulty thoughts, behaviours and communicating anxieties.
This is my wish for all of you this season.
So, without further ado, let's kick start the festive period with a seasonal "sod off" to your eating disorder.
Here are my Top Tips for Surviving Christmas Time
(ft. mistletoe, and glass upon glassful of wine...)
1. Don't restrict/skip meals.
Compensating and restricting your eating in the weeks leading up to Christmas parties, meals out is more likely to increase anxiety as it puts your body under huge amounts of stress. Restrictive eating has been found to be associated with overeating later on in the day, that may spark binges for those susceptible.
Keep to a routine, and if you're nervous about an upcoming event or meal out simply find out what will be on offer beforehand and pick a couple of options you think you'll be able to manage, that way you can feel more chilled in advance and focus on the social side of season!
2. Movement should be optional and not obligatory.
You do not have to "work for" or "work off" your food. You deserve to eat food and enjoy yourself just like everyone else, regardless of what you have or have not done.
This is where diet-culture often wins us over, because in the next few weeks we will be inundated with advert after advert for workout DVDs, all this rubbish about detoxes, cleanses, and loads more dieting messages reminding us to hit the gym hard before we have any festive foods. Remind yourself that these are marketing gimmicks; existing to make sales, and caring about their profits and not your health.
Instead of believing you have to run yourself into the ground, be gentle, do things you enjoy; go on wintery walks, do gentle stretching like yoga.
Move because you want to move, and in the ways you love to move.
3. Be Aware of Faulty Thinking Traps:
Christmas can be a playground for eating disorders, freely swinging guilt and shame around so that you end up perpetually swung into the control of your eating disorder. Thoughts and feelings can feel extreme, self-punishing, all encompassing. But remind yourself they are lies. What you eat is not to be internalised as a reflection of who you are as a person; you are not bad, nor are you guilty, or greedy, or shameful for nourishing your body. Write down these faulty thoughts on note cards along with some counteractive comebacks, have them handy so you can remind yourself that actually everything is ok. The more you challenge the thoughts and behaviours the more you see that things aren't really all that scary and the festive fun begins to slowly creep back in! Thought challenging and putting a realistic perspective on a situation [I have written a blog about common thinking errors and ways to challenge them in a blog that you can read here]
4. Use it as a time to challenge and change!
Instead of allowing the season to hold you back, use it as a chance to push you forward!
I have often dealt with people who say it's easier to avoid certain situations, or eating certain foods, so as not to evoke negative and uncomfortable thoughts/feelings. But this doesn't help you challenge your irrational food fears, and by remaining captive to your eating disorder you are preventing little steps forward in your recovery.
Make a little list of foods you tend to avoid or feel anxious about, and then work them into your meals and snacks. Have a trusted friend that can support you trying these foods out and help you handle anxiety around this. You may wish to journal how you felt before, during, and after eating them. I promise you will survive to see that nothing bad happens. The more you practice this task the more you break down barriers and increase the variety of foods into your diet.
5. Try Something New!
There is so much more to Christmas than food! Get festive with crafts, movies, winter walks, visiting German Markets, seeing the lights, games. These and many more are all great distractions away from negative thinking and ruminating thoughts.
6. Make Self-Care A Priority
Give yourself space and time to calm your thoughts and feelings; breathing exercises or having something soothing (I used aromatherapy candles and music) can help if you are susceptible to panic attacks or extreme anxiety. This will also help aid digestion, and may help reduce any pain, discomfort or bloating caused by tension and stress around food often confused as GI dysfunctions such as IBS or coeliac - no self diagnosis please.
6. Take One Day At A Time.
For many the social occasions are more than just the day itself and many have extended Christmas and New Years plans. This amount of socialising and foody events may feel very overwhelming when you think about it all at once, so don't get ahead of yourself. It may be helpful to take time to sit and plan, with a clinician or any trusted other, ways to manage the upcoming season so that your health remains stable.
Knowing where you will be for events, looking at menus in advance, or having some pre-made snacks are all ways you can make sure you feel comfortable socialising this season.
Remember that the season is more than just food, so what else can you get up too with friend and family?!
7. Ditch The Diet and Body Talk:
I used to dread coming back from my treatment at Christmas just because it meant hearing the words "you're looking so much better" repeatedly said to me. *Cringe*
Now, to many this may seem bizzare, because surely that's a lovely compliment to hear?! And true, it is....now! But, when ill with an eating disorder, such comments are likely interpreted as "looking bigger/fatter". This it then associated with many other hugely complex underlying beliefs and labels: being bad/unworthy/unloveable/not deserving treatment/care...feeling out of control. A complex can of worms you just didn't wanna open...
It's worth telling friends, family members in advance not to comment on your appearance, and abstain from topics of conversation regarding body image and food talk. None of this talk on "good or bad foods", or "such and such will go straight to my hips..."...tell them to leave that diet-trash talk out of the picture for their sake as well as yours.
Personal reflection; it definitely helped me to challenge this warped interpretation by remembering they hadn't seen me since I went into hospital, really they were just thrilled to see me back at home for Christmas, and actually what they were referring to was my bubblier, brighter side that was shining through now I was becoming "me" again. When I was more motivated in recovery I would challenge these thoughts and ask myself why was I interpreting comments in this way, and why I felt the need to look "ill" - what was this function playing for me? what was I actually trying to vocalise through restrictive eating and self-starvation? Deep stuff I know...but just points to ponder.
8. Communication is Key:
Believe it or not but people do care about you. Talk to whoever’s cooking for you, and be honest about how you’re feeling to your friends and family, the more they understand how you're coping with things the more they can support you at meals and in states of high anxiety. Whether it's going for a coffee with a mate, or having a hug from your parents, if you need it, ask for it.
You Got This!
Christmas is a hard time for those with eating disorders, so don't be hard on yourself, and don't expect every day to go perfectly. Take small steps to challenge your thinking and your eating.
Remember: It's only one month. You will survive to see that nothing bad has happened!!!
You do not need to work for, or work off, what you eat.
Your eating disorder has no authority to restrict or rule your life.
Above all else, remember that you deserve to enjoy Christmas, just like everyone else.
Dear parents and carers... My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Remember to not neglect your own needs. For more info please check out the blog written by guest writer on my site, and one strong mummy, Janet Richards, sharing her top tips.
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