Words by our Clinical Psychologist Dr Anna Suraev
Although the holiday season can be a time to unwind, be with friends and family, and celebrate, it can also bring on a great deal of stress for someone struggling with an eating disorder. Food becomes the centrepiece of social gatherings, you may be out of your usual routine and environment, and then… there are the comments from your loved ones.
This blog post specifically focuses on recovering from a restrictive eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa (to read about binge eating issues written by our Clinical Psychologist Bianca Glajz click here!).
Discuss with your support team (e.g. therapist/doctor/dietician) a plan to cope with more challenging meals, such as on Christmas day. If possible, get an idea of what food will be available and figure out what you can feel more comfortable with having and still following your meal plan.
You could bring your own snacks that you like if you are in transit or do not have access to food you usually have. Do not skip meals or restrict in order to compensate for a Christmas lunch and keep your eating regular and consistent. If you choose to drink alcohol, remember that it does not count as food.
Have a buddy
Have a trusted family member or friend you can turn to if you are struggling during meal times. A reassuring glance or a nod across the table may be what you need to keep you getting through the meal. Educate them with what they could say to you (discretely) that will be helpful if you are having a difficult time. They could also be your “reality check” with food, such as helping you dish up your plate or a guide with portioning. You could also ask a friend to be available via phone for support or reach out to Lifeline (13 11 14) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636).
Know your triggers and plan ahead ways to take care of yourself. It may be briefly removing yourself from a situation to take some slow breaths, distract, seek support, or tell yourself words of encouragement (having these prepared earlier in writing can be even more helpful!). Remind yourself that it is okay to eat what you did, that it is normal to eat more during the holidays, most people do and it really is okay. Practice healthy self-soothing or distraction techniques, such as having a bath, reading, practicing mindfulness, listening to music, or spending time with a pet.
Comments from others
The bringing together of family members can often result in well-meaning comments about your body and health, such as being told “you look so well”, which the unhealthy voice in your head translates as “you’ve put on lots of weight”. It is also common to hear others talk about their weight gain during Christmas or see adverts for diets or gym memberships. Let this fall on deaf ears and practice how to best respond to unhelpful comments from family or friends. You may also ask others ahead of time to hold back any comments about your weight or eating. Something along the lines of “I’ve been struggling with eating lately and I am working on it. I would appreciate if you do not make any comments about my body or the way I eat”.
Avoid the scales! The number on the scale gives very little useful information and can only fuel anxious thoughts and preoccupation with your weight. Same goes for mirror-checking and other ways to put focus on your body. Remember that your mind is very good at distorting what you see and the ED voice is even better at scaring you with all sorts of unhelpful predictions.