A table set for a holiday meal

How to get through the holidays with an eating disorder

A guide on how to deal with the food festivities

Mental health and wellbeing
By VoiceBox ·

VoiceBox

For young people, by young people.

A Christmas survival guide for anyone with an eating disorder

It’s that time of year again. While people are buying Christmas jumpers, decorating the tree and blasting out Christmas music, those with eating disorders are likely to only be thinking about one thing: food.

Christmas, understandably, has a huge focus on food. And why wouldn’t it? It’s the season of plenty, a time to cosy up with your family and friends and enjoy Christmas dinner, leftover sandwiches, Christmas pudding, chocolates – the lot. And while this all sounds fabulous on the surface, anyone with an eating disorder may be sceptical, or even scared, of the holidays.

For those who don’t know, eating disorders are a group of related conditions including anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating, and many others. 

Eating disorders can be devastating, and even fatal when not treated correctly. And the Christmas period can be extremely stressful, regardless of how long someone has been in recovery for.

To help you, even if just a little bit, we’ve compiled a handy survival guide for getting through the Christmas period with an eating disorder – written by someone who knows exactly what it’s like to deal with the food festivities. 

Be honest

We understand that having an eating disorder can be lonely and isolating. It may feel easier to shut yourself off from your family this time, from fear of “ruining” their holidays or adding extra stress. 

We also know that some family members may not be so understanding, and in some cases could ignore your situation completely. 

Address your concerns with a family member you trust. Having someone as your point of call when you’re feeling overwhelmed is always going to be better than struggling alone. And if you don’t have a family member you feel comfortable talking to, there are lots of hotlines and online safe spaces available for advice. 

Plan in advance

Christmas dinner can be different from your usual meal. Food is far more readily available, there’s an added pressure to “indulge” and some families are encouraged to serve themselves.

Planning Christmas dinner in advance and agreeing on what will be served and in what portion sizes is less likely to put you on the spot and cause you to panic at the table. 

You could also agree to have your meal served away from the table. It’s completely normal when you have an eating disorder to feel “watched”, and serving yourself may feel scary. Choosing your food away from everyone else can help mitigate that fear.

Discuss trigger foods

Trigger foods are a typical part of an eating disorder. For some they may provoke bingeing and for others they may cause the overwhelming need to restrict your diet after eating them.

If there are any Christmas foods that could trigger you, let a family member know in advance so you can agree that there will be no pressure to eat them. If someone else is likely to question why you aren’t eating, you could agree on a reason that your trusted family member can provide on your behalf. 

Distractions

Feeling guilty, worried or having an urge to binge or purge could happen after a meal. Ensure you are surrounded by others during this time, away from the dinner table and in another room. 

Distractions such as a fun game, a movie or discussing your presents will help take your mind off those urges. You could also plan these distractions beforehand so you don’t have to worry about requesting them on the spot. 

If you cook, you eat

It can be fun to take part in the Christmas cooking, and is also a great way to feel in control of ingredients.

The common rule, though, is that you must eat what you cook. Obsessing over food and cooking extravagant meals without eating them is a trait of eating disorders that many of you will be familiar with.

But this habit can fuel your illness further and prolong recovery. If you cook something, you must try your hardest to eat it. You could turn to your trusted family member for quiet support during these moments, and if you do manage to eat something you’ve cooked try to remember that you deserve to be extremely proud of that accomplishment. 

Worried about comments?

Words from well-meaning family members can actually be extremely harmful. “You’re looking so well” or “it’s great to see you eating” can easily translate to a comment about weight in the mind of someone with an eating disorder. 

Ask your trusted family member to encourage others not to make comments on food, appearance or dieting. If someone does say something that triggers you, tell someone you trust straight away so you can work on removing the bad feeling. This could be a family member, or a charity hotline

Remember, help is always out there if you need it.

Suggested Articles

  • Woman sitting on a cliff looking out onto the view
    Solitude

    Solitude

    At times we all feel alone, but those feelings never last forever.

  • clock showing near midnight
    New Year's Frustration

    New Year's Frustration

    Why one young person hates the idea of having to 'start again' on January 1st

  • Burnout written in blocks
    Dealing with Burnout

    Dealing with Burnout

    Burnout can be scary at first, but it's not impossible to overcome.