Christmas is undoubtedly a difficult time for anyone with an eating disorder – because in essence it involves everything that sufferers find stressful. In fact, Christmas can set those who are recovering back – not just because of the annual obsession with food that everyone around us temporarily develops, but because of the pressure and constant barrage of comments, looks and poor treatment which is often directed at people with eating disorders at this time of year. I know myself that I developed other worse ‘habits’ (mental illnesses in themselves) around particularly stressful events like Christmas, using harmful coping mechanisms like self-harm to get myself through the season.
Please don’t turn to self-harm or any other destructive methods of coping – they will only make things worse for you and more deeply ingrain the negative beliefs you’re wrestling with. Even if you don’t feel you are worth it, it’s especially important that you look after yourself now, as the dark nights, cold weather and claustrophobic ‘trapped’ feeling of spending time indoors with relatives has psychological consequences for those who aren’t already struggling, let alone anyone with an eating disorder. Here are my tips for staying as safe and as well as possible during Christmas time – and remember, you can always get in touch or take a look at these charities for further help and support.
Try not to take comments to heart
It’s highly likely that (sometimes ‘well meaning’) people will make comments about your appearance and your behaviour. At this time of year families spend a lot more time together, which often causes fuses to shorten and results in judgmental, hurtful comments being made. Nobody in your family will be able to appreciate how hard it is for you to be surrounded by triggers – food, people, social gatherings, niceties, alcohol. They won’t understand the ‘torn’ feeling of being presented with gifts and plates of food which you feel you can’t eat, the voice in your head telling you you’ll be fat and hating them for eating whilst pangs of guilt hit your stomach for rejecting another meal or chocolate reindeer. Yet still they think it is appropriate to voice their misguided opinion – often because they believe they might be the one to make you ‘snap out of it’ (good one!). The only thing to do when this happens is to ignore what has been said and remove yourself from the situation. Don’t allow one comment to form an avalanche of others, or start an internal dialogue of self-hatred. Just walk away without explanation and keep yourself safe.
Have a ‘safe space’ to escape to
It’s important that you have somewhere to go and something to do which is safe which you can escape to if things all get a bit too much. Perhaps that’s your room, or maybe you can go outside for some air. Cabin fever sets in all too often at Christmas time – especially if you’re confined to a relatively small space with people who are constantly judging you. Have an activity (whether that’s a film, writing, sketching or playing a game) planned so that you can go up there and get straight to it. Distraction has been key to my recovery from anxiety and it was also an important part of my recovery from Anorexia. The best activity of all would be reading and contemplating your future and making a mood board – then putting plans in place so you can dream about something exciting and tangible to look forward to.
Know when everything is too much
Anxiety and stress can slowly creep up on you – until it all gets too much and results in a meltdown. It seems to come as a surprise to your family (or even to you) but actually the tension has been building with every meal, every comment, every time you’re forced to step out of your ‘safe’ zone. Keep a check on yourself and keep taking the time to make sure you’re okay (or as ‘okay’ as you possibly can be). This way you should be able to identify when you’re headed for meltdown and can put measures in place to ensure that you are not too badly hurt when it does come around.
Don’t allow yourself (or anyone else) to pile on the pressure
Christmas really is just a traditional holiday and the things which are made out to be the ‘be all and end all’ are actually unimportant. Christmas should be a celebration – or at least a time when family and friends gather round to support you, not to make you feel bad and cause you to be isolated. Even the loveliest of families will find it difficult to fully appreciate your situation, or to know what to do around this time when they are likely to be spinning lots of plates and trying to keep others happy. Just remember that the main goal is for you to be free from your ED – and in lots of ways Christmas could set you back a few notches because of the stress and pressure involved. Focus on your goal and ask for help and support. Don’t give in to pressure (one of the main factors behind EDs) piled on by family members or friends to eat a whole roast dinner or to drink alcohol. Don’t feel bad because you are ‘ruining Christmas’ or ‘aren’t happy’ – remember, this isn’t your fault, you are poorly. Make sure you feel safe and secure and take little steps you are comfortable with. Perhaps you will have a small roast dinner with your family. That’s a HUGE step. Don’t let anyone push you further or tell you otherwise.
Charities are open for support throughout the Christmas period, as is Tough Cookie. You can find details here: