By BodyMatters therapist Sarah McMahon
It would be rare for us to have a client who isn’t worried about Christmas. Here are our top tips to help you manage the holiday period.
- Write a list of all the things you are worried about. Eating in front of people, Christmas parties with “finger food”, unpredictable meal times and so on can be overwhelming for anyone with an eating disorder. Having your worries written down can defuse them – or at least help to manage them.
- Wherever possible, establish your Christmas Cheer Squad. Let your Cheerleaders (partner, parents, siblings, friends, therapist) know about your concerns. There are often so many things they can do to help, perhaps the most helpful things being available to distract you and offer debriefing.
- Plan plan plan. Plan for meals and occasions as much as possible, with the help of your Cheerleaders. Try to keep a routine or structure that works for you rather than have other people or “Christmas” dictate this. Given the number of Christmas events and the intensity of feelings many people with eating disorders experience around Christmas time, it may be a time you are “just surviving” rather than necessarily thriving. Be realistic about your expectations of yourself. There is nothing wrong with ensuring there are “safe foods” available to make it easier for you**. Use mechanical eating as your framework if you need to and always go back to this if you find yourself feeling stuck.
- Manage the expectations of your loved ones ahead of time if you need to**. If possible, get them on board with your goals. There are many things they might be able to do to support you and prevent triggering situations – such as ensuring you do not need to be involved in food preparation or pack up, or ensuring you don’t go home with too many left overs. Sometimes even the best Cheerleaders may have unrealistic ideas of you “because it’s Christmas”. You do not need to carry the pressure of their expectations.
- Set yourself some challenges. Not so many that you are overwhelmed! But for example, wouldn’t it be nice if you actually could allow yourself to eat some Christmas pudding – and even enjoy it this year!
- Review the tools and strategies you’ve developed as part of your treatment for the year, and put any of these in place if you feel it would be helpful. For example, logging meals on Recovery Record, completing an Intuitive Eating Diary, recognising hunger and measuring you hunger/ fullness cues and so on can be really helpful. Don’t be afraid to go back to “the basics” as a preventative or regrouping measure.
- Practice existing from the inside out rather than surveillancing yourself from the outside in. One of the great things about Christmas is that you can try to be swept up by the experiences of if rather than constantly critically evaluating yourself. Christmas is a time of kindness and generosity for others – why not try to extend that to yourself?
- Practice self compassion. Most people in recovery have slip ups at this time of year. Reframe these as a learning experience and a chance to understand yourself better rather than expecting perfection of yourself.
- Know what professional support is available for you around the Christmas period and set up support for January. The Butterfly Foundation offers support for much of this time of year. BodyMatters may be able to offer you a one off appointment to regroup. This is particularly important if you do not have many Cheerleaders around you.
- Be aware of triggers. Going home, a certain person, reminders of Christmases gone by, a fridge full of leftovers. These can all add to the stress of the time of year. Plan plan plan for these and again, practice self compassion with how you manage these.
- Remember that Christmas Day is just one day! Focus on being mindful & being in the moment to get through it.
- Set up times for regular exercise throughout the period as this usually can help manage mood and eating disorder thoughts. Remember that healthy exercise is moderate, flexible and pleasurable. Exercising with another person (for example, going for a walk) is usually a helpful way of ensuring exercise stays safe.
- Write a list of other events or occasions you’ve managed effectively before. You have coped before!
- Keep a list of your wins and accomplishments you experience over the period.
- Don’t weigh yourself as this has the capacity to be triggering and interfere with your plans.
- Have a plan around how you will manage people who comment on your weight or food choices. Think ahead of time of some one-liner responses that you can utilise that feel safe for you. Remember, no body (not just you and your eating disorder) likes the Food Police or Body Squad, particularly this time of year. People who defer to these roles at Christmas time have their own problems… Don’t let their issues become yours.
- Plan some activities that are pleasurable and grounding for you that you can look forward to just after Christmas. Reward yourself for getting through it – you deserve it!
- Remember, Christmas really isn’t about food! Try to think of other positives & set up activities that do not revolve around it!
- Ensure you wear comfortable clothes that do not reinforce body checking on Christmas Day or other occasions. This will help prevent triggers and allow you to challenge yourself.
How do you plan on surviving the holiday period this Christmas? Please share your ideas for our other readers!
Please get in touch if you would like us to help you plan for the Christmas period, or would like a one-off appointment to support you through this time.
** Please note: This is for people undertaking individual treatment rather than Maudsley Family Based Treatment