A couple of years ago I wrote a post about how to support somebody who has an eating disorder at Christmas.
However, although this is useful to share with others, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to think about ways to get through the festive season when you have an eating disorder. Anorexia has spent the last 18 Christmases with me in various ways; some have been spent deep in relapse, others in active recovery. Most of them have been somewhere in between, at a level of ‘functioning’ that allowed me to put a mask on while the anxiety bubbled away under the service. This does mean, though, that I have managed to build up various strategies that help me to navigate this time of year, and I thought some of them might be helpful to you too.
You might need to do this early on with people, as soon as talk of Christmas plans starts making its way into conversation. This could be around how much time you are going to spend with different people, when and where you will see them and what you want your day to look like. It can be an incredibly stressful time of year and a lot of people with eating disorders struggle with perfectionism, meaning that we can put huge amounts of pressure on ourselves to want everything to go perfectly. Set out those expectations with people as soon as you can to avoid any additional unknown stressors.
Stick to your routine
If you have to wake up and eat and drink at the same times every day to stay on track, then try not to deviate away from that too much. Yes, there is a lot to be said for the ability to be flexible and this is often something that improves as recovery goes on, but if having dinner two hours earlier or a snack later in the evening than you usually would is going to derail you or send you into a tailspin, it’s really not worth it for the sake of just one day.
Talk to people
Let people know if you’re struggling. There will likely be some guilt about worrying that you will ruin the day or bring other people down, but I am confident that people who love you would rather you asked for help and talked things through then gritted your teeth through the season for their benefit. Bottling things up never makes them easier – those thoughts and feelings will spill out elsewhere at some point and it’s likely to take the form of your eating disorder.
Focus on other things
Food and drink are huge parts of Christmas, there’s no denying that. But there are other things to concentrate on too. Decorating the house, opening presents, board games, Christmas movies. All these little things matter too and are a good distraction from thinking about all the anxiety provoking stuff that comes along with the festive season.
It’s likely that you’ll feel guilty at some point. It could be that your eating disorder is making you feel guilty for eating something you wouldn’t usually, or eating too much, or not moving enough. You might feel guilty just for having a nice time because you don’t feel like you deserve to. Alternatively, maybe your eating disorder got in the way of you and others being able to fully immerse yourself in the day and you feel bad that you weren’t able to give your family a day off from worrying about you or that you couldn’t rest in the way you had hoped to. Whatever the reason for the guilt is, forgive yourself. Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder. You are ill and it’s not your fault. Channel those feelings into fighting back against your eating disorder and let them motivate you to recover.
I hope some of these might be helpful for you. For more advice on how to look after your general mental health and wellbeing, have a look at this post.