For a lot of people Christmas can actually be pretty daunting. Although traditionally thought of as a happy time of year for many it’s anything but that. For those with eating disorders it can bring a whole host of issues- what do you eat, when do you eat, will you have to eat with others, will you have to eat things others have cooked, are you missing out on Christmas if you don’t eat everything!!
I think part of the issue is way the festive period is advertised. Every other advert seems to be food/drink related and every single high street chain offers an array of ‘festive specials.’ Of course this can be lovely, and I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed a turkey wrap and a Christmas drink with a dusting of gold shimmery stuff but it can become over whelming. Instead of trying to decide between 3 things you now have about 63. The marketing can also make you feel like you’re missing Christmas if you don’t enjoy the ‘seasonal favourites.’
Then comes other issues, eating out more, eating in front of people more, having to even contemplate a small bowl of trifle that your great aunt made you. There’s also a lack of normality in terms of meal times, and what foods you do actually have in the house. Christmas 2012 was pretty awful, 2010 and 2011 hadn’t been a bed of rose but by 2012 I was dreading it, or rather, in total fear of it. If you’re feeling like that, below are a few things that may, or may not, help:
- ‘Festive Specials:’ When faced with ALL the amazing looking seasonal food in EVERY single food shop, making choices can seem impossible! You also feel you NEEEED all this festive food, because it’s Christmas right, and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t have some ‘bejewelled cranberry cheddar’ or ‘sparkling profiteroles.’ Christmas is about family and friends, not sickly profiteroles (can you tell I’m more a cheese girl.) If you don’t buy the festive foods, it doesn’t matter. Chances are, most of these ‘festive’ foods will still be around after Christmas, just in a different packaging. Quality Street, tins of biscuits, etc etc are available all year round, you can actually eat them whenever YOU want.
- Binge/Restrict: That oh so familiar cycle. I remember one year, in early recovery I decided not to have any treats during the whole of December so I could justify my food choices on Christmas Day. In one sense this helped as it made me feel better about what I ate, but in another I felt hugely restricted, and come Christmas day I wanted to eat everything and anything. This year I’ve been more relaxed- I’ve had mince pies, I’ve had meals out, I’ve had mulled wine, so I don’t feel I’ve been restricted with my choices.
- Routine: This can be hugely important to someone suffering with an ED. Christmas 2012 was a nightmare and I fully remember being glad to get back to work and back to a routine. Over the festive period, days roll into one, meal times become blurred and the fridge seems to be full of anything but your ‘normal’ food. I found, and still find, trying to keep a little routine very helpful. Make sure you have foods you like and feel happy with. While it’s good to be a little less strict in terms of meal times, you can still do half and half. If you know dinner will be later than you like, keep breakfast and lunch the same. Again, if you know you’re having lunch out and the thought of that is a little daunting, make sure you have something you’re happy with for breakfast and dinner
- ‘I should eat 45 Quality Street because it’s Christmas:’ You can eat exactly what you want. If you genuinely want 45 Big Purple Ones (I’d go Strawberry Cream personally) then do so but if you’d actually rather have a big bowl of fruit and yogurt then have that. You are not missing out on Christmas by not eating what everyone else seems to be. You are still in control. Listen to your body, and I know that is SO stupidly hard, but try. If you’re craving another round of roasties and gravy, have some and enjoy it. But if you’d rather have some turkey and green veggies have that instead.
- Christmas Day itself: This is your Christmas just as much as it is anyone else’s, so you should enjoy it too. Ask what time lunch is, and exactly what you’re having so you can prepare yourself for it. If you’re helping with the cooking try to relax and realsie that whoever is cooking wants to make a lovely meal, their sole purpose isn’t to ‘make you fat.’ If you are helping in the kitchen try not to get overly anxious about the meal- essentially this is just a Sunday roast, meat (protein), root veg (carbs), gravy etc (fats) and then a load of veggies, is that really that ‘bad?!’
- What I eat: Christmas 2012 was a very cautious one. I had chicken breast with the trimmings but visually I tried to quantify what I ate. I made ‘healthier’ versions of everything and couldn’t bring myself to really have a pudding- that year it was Greek yogurt and a sugar free jelly. Last year however I pretty much had the lot, because I wanted it, and because I felt comfortable with it, mostly! I had my usual breakfast, making sure I had some eggs and greens and then, if I’m honest I can’t remember, which is good! That seems quite ‘normal’ in my book. I had a G&T with my mum while cooking, some crisps and dip, then the Christmas lunch. I still had chicken (out of preference) and I still made a ‘healthier’ red cabbage/cranberry sauce but I had my mince pies and cream for pudding, I had some chocolates, I had some cheese. My evening meal with pretty much a repeat of lunch, on a smaller scale. I even managed a Ross for Friends style turkey sandwich on Boxing Day.
You can get to a point where you are comfortable eating the same as others on days like this, it can just take some time. Congratulate yourself for what you do do, don’t beat yourself up for what you don’t. If you manage one Quality Street when you couldn’t bring yourself to have any last year, that’s huge, focus on that. Maybe next year you’ll be having mince pies AND Quality Street (FYI I’m not sponsored by Quality Street, actually more a Celebrations girl but hey.)
Ultimately Christmas Day is one day, does it really matter if you eat slightly more on this day? Does it really matter if you eat slightly more for the 2 days surrounding it too? NO. Christmas is a time to be enjoyed with friends and family and loved ones. Recent sad events have only served to remind me of this even more. Cherish the time you have with those you love. If you’re heads just not in a great, don’t berate yourself for that, just take it as it comes.