Supporting people with eating disorders at Christmas

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Health Assured team

17 December 2021

It’s estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder¹. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an eating disorder, Christmas can be an overwhelming and emotionally daunting time of year. Food is woven into many of the festivities. There are more people around the dinner table than usual, and the pressure of the perfect Christmas can be challenging. So remember to make adjustments this year, as and when you need them. There are many different types of eating disorders. And that means that there’s no one size fits all solution. But with a pinch of planning, some helpful coping mechanisms and a little bit of love, you can find a steady, safe place to enjoy the festive season.

Below, we’ve put together ways to support yourself or someone you know who’s been dealing with an eating disorder.

Talk openly

If you’ve got anxious, worried or nervous thoughts about Christmas coming up, the best thing you can do is get them off your chest with someone you trust. Talking to others helps to ease the pressure of painful feelings. It will allow you to gain perspective on worries about Christmas that might be troubling you. If you can feel tension building around the thought of the big day, try your best to talk openly and honestly with the people you’ll be spending it with. Plan ahead in advance. It can help to know what’s coming ahead of time—you might want to discuss who will be attending and how the day will unfold.

Try to take the focus off the food

Christmas is a time of many traditions. But not all of these traditions centre around food. Take the focus off the dinner table and get together with loved ones for a walk, do a jigsaw puzzle or watch a film over the Christmas break. When you take the focus away from food, it reduces feelings of anxiety, which clears the way for connecting with family and friends. The meal on the big day can often be one of the most intense parts of the whole festive season. The build-up alone can feel like a mountain to overcome. It can help to move away from the table, have a game planned straight after dinner or have music on in the background to ease any uncomfortable feelings.

Be flexible

Many pressures arise at this time of year for Christmas to look and feel a certain way. From social activities to family traditions and the need for everything to go to 'plan’ throughout the day. With these pressures come expectations. And we might not always be aware of these expectations, but they can arise in surprising ways. We subtly expect things to go a certain way and can feel let down if they don't. But if you’re living with an eating disorder or supporting someone who is, it’s important to be flexible with yourself about the season ahead. It might be difficult at times, but that’s okay. Accepting imperfections can help us deal with our emotions when things don’t work out quite the way we want them to.

Encourage positivity

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said: in the midst of darkness, light persists. Even in the toughest of times, we can still find things to be grateful for. A roof over our heads. Memories with loved ones. Time to relax and have fun. Try where possible to spread some positivity this Christmas season. Avoid comparisons with others and try to limit social media usage. Don’t be afraid to take some quiet time to cool off if needed. Remember to take care of yourself and look out for what your body needs.

¹ Beat Eating Disorders, 

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