The holiday season can be stressful time, especially for people living with an eating disorder. There are so many things about Christmas time, and all the end of year celebrations, that can be difficult to navigate.
First, there’s food in abundance. Celebrations often centre around a meal. There are often buffet-style meals, share plates, grazing tables and unfamiliar foods that you might not normally eat.
In the absence of school and work, the days and weeks are largely unstructured. That means there is no regular routine to help form a basis for regular eating.
On top of this, there is an abundance of people. Family and friends gather to spend time together, leaving little time and space for you to spend alone. You might also be confronted by comments and remarks about body, food and behaviours.
The holidays are basically an obstacle course of eating disorder triggers.
Two of our experienced psychologists at InsideOut, Sarah Horsfield and Rachel Simeone, offer some practical tips to help you get through.
Psychologist Sarah Horsfield says the best thing you can do is be aware and plan ahead.
“Identify when your high stress points will be, and then plan for them,” she says.
“Write a list of all the things you are most worried about, and then methodically write down a plan about how you are going to handle each of those things on the list.”
“If you notice that the eating disorder wants you to engage in unhelpful behaviours like restricting or purging, make a plan for how you can manage these high-risk times and make sure you draw upon your existing toolbox of strategies.”
“Regular eating and sticking to planned meals and snacks is more important than ever during the holiday period.'”
“Make a structure for days that you know are going to be difficult for you.”
Sarah says it can be useful to include non-food related activities in your plan, like a board game or a puzzle.
“And don’t forget to plan some self-care activities over the holiday break. Take a bath or read a book. Do something that is just for you,” she says.
Psychologist Rachel Simeone also says it is vital to be prepared and have a plan around meal times.
“This time of year often involves share plates and buffet-style meals. Plan your plate before you start eating so that you can feel more confident with your food choices.”
“When it comes to alcohol, be mindful that it does affect your ability to make good judgements about food.”
Rachel says that support people can be a useful resource when things get tough.
“Talk to your therapist before the holidays and make a plan for the things that might be challenging. Discuss strategies you can use and supports you can access if you need them.”
“You can also lean on close friends or family members to help you stick to your plan and for in the moment support.”
And above all, both Sarah and Rachel agree, to be kind to yourself. If you do have a slip up, that’s okay. Acknowledge that it is a difficult time to stay on track, forgive yourself and move on.