Christmas, the time of year for feasting! You know, going all out on everything because ‘it’s Christmas,’ having the 20 Quality Street in one sitting, forcing in that extra roaster, having just another 18 glasses of prosecco. But for someone with an eating disorder it can be pretty tough. Obviously it can be a hard time of year for many people for many reasons but that can get a bit forgotten about.
I touched on this a little on an instagram post earlier in the week but I think Christmas can strike terror in the heart of someone with food issues for a few reasons:
This is so hard around Christmas as everyone seems to be ‘indulging’ while you’re still trying to live off herbal tea and carrot batons. If you restrict what you eat, it’shard to know what to actually have. When I was going through this I’d have small, teeny tiny bits of everything as I just couldn’t decide what I’d want. I’d then feel guilty, and like I’d over eaten, yet still so unsatisfied. The restrictive aspect for me was one of the hardest to get my head round and I still put restrictions on myself now, just thankfully nowhere near as rigid! The restrictive part can sometimes become worse at Christmas as there will times when you feel a bit out of control food wise- visiting great aunt Joan who’s made homemade cakes and pastries that you just have to have so you don’t look rude. This in turn can then mean you’re even more restrictive when you can actually pick what you want. Then there’s Christmas Day itself and you’re wondering how much oil your mum used on the potatoes, and did she used full fat or semi skimmed milked in the bread sauce, would you be able to weigh things out while people were plating up.
On the flip side of restricting, there’s binge eating. This is all too easy at Christmas as there seems to be food at every turn, and looooooads it. Plus as everyone seems to be eating for England, no one really notices if you do the same. For me, most of the festive treats are the things I would binge/purge on- sweet things, chocolates, biscuits, anything like that. Every brand seems to bring out a festive version of everything so you feel you have to eat it, and it’s so good as you’ve been so restrictive you then binge on everything.
Feeling left out
Celebrations and holidays seem to be geared around food more and more these days. You can pretty much buy a smoked, garlic encrusted larks tongue if you really wanted one, and everything is ramped up that bit more- party food, mini bites, big bites, sharing plates, chocolates soooo many chocolates. Different people have different fear foods but a lot of the festive feasts tend to be a bit ‘scary,’ leaving you unsure of what to eat at all. That in itself makes you feel left out. You desperately want to enjoy these things but your mind just won’t let you. You want to go out with our friends and have the buffet and champagne, you want to have all the little nibbles before you sit down to your turkey, and you want to have the handful of Quality Street while you watch Love Actually for the 4millionth time. But you just can’t. Because so much marketing goes into Christmas food and drink, by not joining in with some of the festive meals, or parties it’s like you feel your missing Christmas all together.
How I deal with Christmas
My Christmases during recovery have been that bit better, and that bit less restrictive with each year. I think the main thing to remember is that Christmas is about spending time with your friends and family, relaxing, being grateful for the things you have- it is NOT all about food! Do not feel guilty or sad if you aren’t eating exactly what everyone else is eating, likewise if you do eat more than usual, do not feel bad about it. My nutritionist drilled into me that ‘it’s what you do on average that counts.’ This is so true and very important to remember- if you have a day, or even a few days of eating more than usual, that isn’t a bad thing. There are 52 weeks in a year, if you eat badly for one of those weeks, that’s not even 10%. Feeling guilty about what you’ve eaten can take away the pleasure, so if you want something a bit scary, have it and savour it and banish the guilt. It is so hard but another main point is to try and listen to your body, not your mind. If you really really want to start your Christmas Day with a bubbly chocolate Santa and a Malteser reindeer, do so but if you would genuinely rather have eggs and kale, have that- you don’t have to eat anything just because it’s Christmas. Quality Street are there all year round, you are not missing the point of Christmas if you don’t eat one. With regard to Christmas lunch, if there are things that unnerve you, try and work around it. You could make your own sauces and canapés rather than buying them so you know what’s in them. Likewise, ask for some potatoes to be left plain and not roasted if that worries you. Again, these aren’t things you have to do, but just ideas which may help.
What I eat for Christmas Dinner
Taking all of the above into account I thought I’d mention what I ate. I start my day with a usual breakfast of eggs and greens, and have a mid morning snack if I feel hungry. As a family we eat at lunchtime and my mum is very good at making me feel comfortable with everything. I have chicken rather than turkey, and will roast some sweet potatoes and parsnips in coconut oil. Our gravy is homemade with butter, veggie stock and flour, and although my mum makes her own bread sauce, I have to say I prefer the packeted stuff!! We then have a loooooad of veggies. I try and make my own cranberry sauce as the amount of sugar in the bought stuff makes me a bit jumpy, and I’ll make my own red cabbage, substituting the refined white sugar for some balsamic vinegar and some chopped apple. I don’t actually like Christmas pudding so dessert is something else. In early recovery I had just Greek yogurt and sugar free jelly as I was too scared to have anything different! Last year I had mince pies and cream- the first time I’d eaten a mince pie for 3 years! And yes, if I fancy it I’ll have chocolates and maybe some cheese and biscuits later too. Last year I’d got myself worked up to that and when it actually came to eating them, I genuinely didn’t fancy it. I think that’s what I mean about trying to listen to what you actually want. Then in the evening I usually have a smaller version of my lunch, maybe with a few less sauces.
As you progress in recovery, you will find it easier to listen to your body, not your head and that’s the main thing. Remember that Christmas is a time to be enjoyed, not worried about. I know how anxious it can make you as I’ve been there but take it all in tiny steps, and break it down- it’s just a meal with meat and veggies, nothing scary about that