It’s Christmas Eve and tomorrow is the big day! Yes, another year has passed us by and Christmas day is right around the corner, I’d like to take a moment to think about those struggling with eating disorders over this festive period. Picture this scenario:

You are home from university with (mostly) no work to do, your close family are off work, and those cousins that you can’t quite remember the name of are coming to visit. You will all sit and exchange gifts, stories, and laughs around the table; while plates of food of every colour and texture appear before your eyes. They are terrifyingly mountainous, the Christmas songs are thumping in your head to the point where they hurt, your heart is beating faster, all the while your family carries on around you as if nothing is going on. Oblivious to the fact you feel like you are in a living nightmare; drowning as your senses are completely overloaded, alone and scared in a room of happy people. This is an example of what the Christmas meal feels like to someone struggling with an eating disorder.

This is what it used to feel like for me. I have been struggling with an eating disorder (Bulimia) for over 8 years and while I am in recovery and far better now in my 20’s than I was when I was in my early teens, the memories still pose a difficulty every year. The issue with this time of year is not just the overwhelming amounts of food, but a disruption in routine and meal plans. A fixation on how many calories are about to be consumed? How am I going to get rid of this? How much exercise will be needed to burn off a solitary brussels sprout?  If you are struggling to cope or you know someone who is then there are a few things that you can be done do make the day feel easier:

Find things to do during the day that aren’t food related: watching a movie, playing board games. Having a day surrounded entirely by food only makes the day harder, but by planning the day around activities and the meal just being another aspect, things become more enjoyable.

If anxiety builds, you can practice distraction and relaxation techniques: Mindfulness and breathing exercises are a useful tool for calming anxiety; Breathe in and slowly count to 5, hold the breath in and count to 2, Exhale slowly and count to 7, hold once again for 2 counts. By keeping the ‘out’ breath longer than the ‘in’ breath you are activating your body’s natural relaxation system. You can find a list of distraction and relaxation techniques by following this link here.

Picking your main: while recovering, I would semi-happily eat the vegetables, but roast potatoes, pastries, and the mains were far more difficult for me. When I could pick my main things slowly became easier, I chose something I would actually want to eat and that made the meal easier as I was genuinely looking forward to it.

Don’t push it: I know how hard it is to see someone you care about, struggling with a basic aspect of survival. While logically I know that feeding myself is vital for survival, no amount of logic will change the fear locked in my chest that eating a meal that large will destroy me. While I know that is takes consuming 7000 calories in one sitting to gain 1lb and that one Christmas meal is not going to hurt me, it doesn’t take away the fear. If you notice a loved one struggling, don’t push the issue, give your love and support and focus on helping them get through the day.

Practice self-care: this one isn’t only for Christmas day! Make a list of things you can do to look after yourself each day. Taking a relaxing bath, playing an instrument, meditating etc.. self- care is something that will only take a few minutes of your day but will help you for the rest of your life. Follow this link to find out more amazing tips for self-care.

BEAT the eating disorder charity has, for the first time, decided to keep its hotlines open during Christmas day. You can find out more about BEAT by clicking on this link.

Useful numbers:
BEAT adult helpline: 0345 634 1414 or email help@b-eat.co.uk
BEAT youth helpline: 0345 634 7650 or email fyp@b-eat.co.uk  
Samaritans: 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

How you can help someone coping with an eating disorder over the holidays.