‘Tis the season to eat and drink, but what happens if the illness gets in the way?
Although eating disorders can be triggered at any time in the year, many with conditions like anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia or binge eating can find Christmas particularly challenging. With such an intense focus on food and family, Christmas can be an understandably difficult time for people managing an eating disorder. For those who are trapped in the private hell of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, the Holidays often magnify their personal struggles, causing them great internal pain and turmoil.
Christmas itself doesn’t trigger my eating disorder anymore but the opportunity to be triggered is much more than usual because of all the things that are associated with the holiday. Meal prepping has become one of my main coping skills – having meals ready that I can defrost and eat helps me avoid rushing to a fast food place and buying junk food. However, during Christmas, meal prepping can be hard to maintain with lots of spontaneous meals out and abnormal treats like advent calendars. My most shameful memories are from pre-recovery when I was much younger, I would regularly find myself sneaking extra food during the holidays. I would regularly find myself overeating coconut balls or eating an entire Christmas log in secret.
A few years ago when I started on my quest to overcome my binge eating disorder and had already lost some weight. I remember myself clearly counting calories, spending full days not eating only to binge at the event I used to attend and then rush to the gym to try and burn it all off. The Personal trainer I had at the time did not help the situation at all. He kept pushing me to have abs by summer and instilling guilt in me if I happened to indulge in some food. I remember him shaming me Christmas eve of that year when I got to the gym and had a bloated tummy asking me if I was on my period or if I had overeaten panettone. He claimed it was in the name of health but it really was not! He was a narcissist plain and simple.
So how can the festive period be managed best for those managing eating disorders? For me planning ahead was crucial and sharing concerns with those closest to me.
Setting a strong boundary is the most important step you can take to avoid getting certain comments. I know that sometimes it can be easier said than done! But trust me when you learn how to set boundaries it can help you feel free. So how do you do that? Examine the context of the comment and if appropriate respond politely while requesting a clear boundary. For example, ‘I understand your concern but those comments make me uncomfortable. I’d appreciate it if we didn’t discuss my appearance at all and enjoy our time together.’
It can also help to steer attention away from food and focus on human connections, so once meals are over, find activities that focus on something else, such as a family walk, playing board games, or watching a funny film together.
But more importantly, for family and friends, avoid comments such as ”don’t you look healthy today how much weight have you lost?” or comments on how much you have eaten or if you have eaten enough or comments on a person’s weight and appearance – whether it is to congratulate them on weight loss or to pass a silly comment about how plump or bloated they are looking- as these could be misinterpreted and cause more harm than good. Furthermore, Stop talking about the diet you’re going to go on in January and don’t use words like ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ around food. This whole mentality makes people with Eating Disorders feel that they can’t enjoy themselves around Christmas without making up for it later. Instead, positively reinforce your relationship with them as much as possible.”
If you feel you need more support I am setting up a mastermind with Angele Cristina from Wondrous online women. Check out the contents of this mastermind and see if it is for you or get in touch for more information.