The emphasis on food is greater during the festive season and we know that with this can come greater anxiety, especially for people in recovery with an eating disorder.

To support you with this, Beth, Orri’s Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian, shares her guidance for how to cope with food whilst maintaining your eating disorder recovery.

Managing a change in routine

It is normal for our schedules to look a little different over the festive period. This might mean meal timings and patterns differ to your usual routine.

It can be helpful to plan ahead with a support person and think about what help your might need, to alleviate some of your anxieties on the day.

For example, how you will rearrange your meals/snacks to fit around social events you have planned?

Depending on where you are in your recovery, it may be important for you to stick to your meal plan i.e. 3 meals & 3 snacks. If you are eating when people around you are not, please remember that this is totally fine and your individual needs differ to others.

Worrying about what to eat?

You may be worried about eating foods you find challenging and typically try to avoid.

Consider challenging yourself to incorporate these foods prior to Christmas, so that they may not feel quite so scary on the day.

Also, consider how the meal will be served – if it’s going to be buffet style it may be helpful to have someone portion this for you.

Plan what you will be having ahead of time-if you are eating away from home, contact the host and ask what the options will be (you are entitled to do this – do not be ashamed, your needs are valid & important)

If eating socially is just too difficult right now, consider eating before an event so that you can still join in socially – importantly, been open and honest with your intentions, try to recognise when you’re eating disorder is creeping in so that you can challenge this

Facing difficult conversations, such as diet talk and unhelpful comments

You might be spending this period with individuals who are less sensitive toward your struggles and you may end up being surrounded by unhelpful conversation.

Have a list of things to say in response to unsolicited comments regarding what you are/aren’t eating e.g. ‘what I’m having is right for me at the moment’.

If you are able to, challenge diet talk or attempt to redirect the conversation. Discuss with loved ones if you would like them to inform other members of your family not to comment on your body or food.

Remember, you are allowed to remove yourself from unhelpful situations. Protecting yourself from triggers, setting boundaries and prioritising your needs are necessary and important parts of recovery.

Eating in front of others

Eating in front of those you don’t normally, can feel intimidating and anxiety provoking.

Make sure you are aware of who will be present, so that you can plan accordingly and don’t have to cope with any surprises or unknowns.

Have a code word or signal with loved ones, so that if things become too overwhelming you can leave the table discreetly and get support.

Your eating disorder will make you feel as if you are under a spotlight when eating – remember, people will not be focusing on you as much as you think they are.

Coping with a heightened focus on food

There is a large emphasis on food around this time of year, which can be really difficult to manage if food is a source of anxiety for you.

If you find critical thoughts or any feelings of discomfort arise, have a plan of distractions to use after meals – family games, watch a film, write thank you notes, call a friend etc. We explore how you can be mindful in moments of downtime in our blog, here.

Sitting for long periods at the table may be difficult – agree beforehand that you will move to another area after eating.

Remember all the other things that Christmas is about – giving, reflecting, forgiveness, hope, joy.

Just because you may not be able to fully embrace the food aspect of the day this year, does not mean Christmas is ruined for yourself or for those around you.

Holding the experience of reduced physical activity

It is completely normal for our activity levels to change, depending on our schedules and plans.

Exercise should fit into your day to day plans – not the other way around.

If your approach to exercise is very rigid, now might be a good opportunity to challenge the negative thoughts – use this time to break the regimented cycle you may have found yourself in.

No matter what your eating disorder is telling you – nothing bad is going to happen if you are unable to go on your usual daily walk, go to the gym or attend a yoga class.

Put things into perspective – the two-week period over Christmas accounts for 4% of an entire year.

You are worthy and deserving to be present and to enjoy this festive holiday. Try not to let your eating disorder hold you back – reach out. There are people who care.

Do you have any questions? Get in touch with us!