Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or at least it is when you can relax, spend time with loved ones, and not constantly be freaking out about food.
If you have, or have had, a bad relationship with food, Christmas can be overwhelming. Sometimes it can seem like Christmas is all about the food. Mince pies, yule log, Christmas pudding…the list of Christmas foods goes on and on.
If you’re not in a place where you feel you have a healthy relationship with food then all the added temptations of the extra food can be daunting.
I went with my family to do the Christmas food shop this morning and in previous years, both during my eating disorder (if I could even find the energy to get out of bed to go) and the last year as I adapted to life post eating disorder, I wanted to put every sugary or fatty item that I saw in the trolley. This year, with my healthiest relationship with food in years, this didn’t happen. Why? Because I’m not starved, I don’t deny myself certain foods, and I’m learning to trust myself with food again. But it took me a long time to get here, and I learn a lot of techniques along the way.
If you’re someone who’s working towards a healthy relationship with food then here are my top tips to relax around food, eat contentedly, and conquer Christmas!
If you tend to restrict:
1) IDENTIFY YOUR FEAR FOODS
What foods are giving you the most anxiety? Write them down and why you’re worried about them. Having things written down can help bring clarity to the situation and even minimise worries.
As soon as you see a table crammed full with food you may start to panic. I used to do this too – it felt like I had to eat allll the food, that it was all calling out to me so it was even more important to gain control and restrict. If this happens, focus on your breathing. Take 5 long, slow, deep breaths. This will help you calm down and approach the situation with more objectivity.
3) IT’S JUST FOOD
This is maybe one of the most difficult things to realise when you have an eating disorder. Food is not going to make you fat over night; food is not the devil; food is simply something we put in our mouths to fuel ourselves and to let us live the lives we want. There are no good and bad foods – they all have a purpose whether it to be to nourish us or excite us. Don’t let food have a greater meaning in your life than that.
4) DISTRACT YOURSELF
Whilst there is a lot of focus on the food element of Christmas there are so many other things to enjoy. Friends and family, the joy of giving, the religious element if you’re Christian. If you feel the panic around eating taking over try and shift your attention to one of these elements. Be mindful of what’s going on around you, even if it’s the traditional family Christmas argument…
5) TRY A FEAR FOOD
Remember that list of fear foods you’ve written down? Why not try and set yourself a target of trying one of them. It doesn’t even have to be a full portion, but having something you’re scared of is a massive step in itself. Maybe have a bit of Christmas pudding alongside everyone else so you’re also participating with a Christmas dinner ritual, or have a mince pie mid afternoon? It will be normal to feel anxious about this, but the more often you do it, the easier it’ll become.
6) BE PROUD!
Christmas is a stressful time of year if you’re struggling with eating habits. Be proud of every small step you take, even if it’s just to reduce your anxiety. And give yourself some grace – mistakes are OK!
If you tend to binge:
1) EAT BREAKFAST
You’re far more likely to binge if you’re feeling hungry or if you’ve got unstable blood sugar. At Christmas you may feel tempted to skip breakfast (or eat a chocolate breakfast) to save room for the mince pies later, however this will likely lead you to overeat on sugary goods later. Instead have a high protein breakfast – think scrambled eggs, yoghurt, or chia pudding – which will keep your blood sugar stable and fill you up sufficiently to reduce the likelihood of a binge later.
2) IDENTIFY KEY STRESSES
Binging is often triggered by a negative emotion. Whilst Christmas can be a wonderfully happy time of year, there may be moments which cause stress or sadness (for example it may be your first Christmas without a loved one, or there may be the usual family bickering throughout the day). Think about what these might be beforehand and write them down. Next to this write down how you’re going to deal with each situation. It might be focussing on your breathing, removing yourself from a situation, reminding yourself of 3 things you’re grateful for, or painting your nails. Anything that turns your coping strategy away from food is a winner.
3) DON’T FEEL GUILTY
I used to feel so guilty about eating and so I would avoid eating in front of people and then eat as much as possible when I was alone, worried about when I’d next get the same opportunity. This became such a habit that even now I get an automatic desire to eat when I’m suddenly left alone. But there really is nothing to feel guilty about! Eating food, whether it be vegetables or a chocolate bar, is normal and necessary! Rather than thinking “I’ll wait until everyone’s gone to bed and sneak a mince pie”, why not just enjoy the social situation and eat one there and then. Over time you’ll realise this is so much more enjoyable and the anxiety will reduce. People are honestly not going to judge you for eating!
4) DON’T CONFINE YOURSELF TO CHRISTMAS
If you feel that the only time you can eat certain foods is at a certain time of year you’ll feel you have to eat as much of them as possible at that time. And as more and more Christmas-related foods appear on our shelves each year it’s not possible to eat them all. This year I allowed myself to eat mince pies all month, and if I’ve fancied a Christmas chocolate when I’ve been out shopping then I’ve just had it. Now that it’s got to Christmas I don’t feel any urgency to eat allll the foods. And remember, if you want a mince pie in July there’s nothing to stop you making a batch. It’s not an all or nothing situation.
5) DITCH THE JANUARY DIET
At this time of year a lot of people seem to go for a “last hurrah” approach before the diet in January. They’ll eat everything that they’re going to deprive themselves of in the New Year, almost certainly resulting in binging type episodes. Firstly, dieting is b*shit – all you need to do maintain a healthy weight is eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, eating a mostly healthy diet with the odd treat thrown in. Secondly, stuffing yourself now will only make you feel uncomfortably full and give you a sugar hangover. Christmas should be a time where you’re feeling good so you can enjoy yourself, not one where you’re lethargic and want to curl up and sleep.
6) BE PROUD
The same stands as for if you’re a restricter. If you’re on a journey of healing your relationship with food you’re probably not going to hit every goal you wanted to this Christmas. But recognise when you do something that takes you in the right direction. You deserve it!
I hope those tips help! Let me know what your tips are below so we can all spread the Christmas help love!