Christmas can be a difficult time for those with eating disorders. Emmy Brunner was interviewed by us to discuss how to cope with an eating disorder during Christmas.
While Christmas is a time to be happy, with its endless buffet dinners and chocolate boxes, and the ‘just one more’ glass of mulled wines, many people look forward to it. However, those who suffer from an eating disorder or other disorders can find the holiday season more challenging than ever. Dr Prathiba Chhotsabesan is the NHS associate clinical director for children’s and young peoples’ mental health.
Emmy Brunner is a Psychotherapist, Author and Personal Empowerment and Transformation Coach. We spoke to her to find out more about how to cope with eating disorders in the lead-up to Christmas. Emmy founded the Soho-based Recover Clinic in 2004. Since then, she and her team have helped thousands of people to heal their eating disorders, anxiety and depression, personality disorders and low self-esteem. Here are her thoughts on how to take care of yourself this Christmas and manage triggering eating disorder behaviors.
People with restricted eating disorders might feel the need for control before the holiday season, while those with binge-eating tendencies may find it hard to manage their overeating during a season that is so focused on food. What can be done to make someone feel less like a victim of their ED and more in control?
Recognize when you are falling into destructive behaviors and practice mindful compassion to help you notice.
Your ED voice may be trying to take advantage of the holiday to make you eat less or more. Instead of focusing on the negative voice in your head and fighting it, focus on the things that make you happy. Recognize when you are falling into destructive behaviors and practice mindful compassion to help you shift your attention to being kind to yourself. Do not judge yourself for enjoying a lot of good food and drink on Christmas Day. To avoid binges and other undesirable behaviours, eat as much as possible while on holiday.
It may be possible to adjust your meal plan to include festive food, if it is manageable. It is important to know what you will cook and when. Allow time to talk over the plan with your therapist/nutritionist. This plan can be shared with someone you trust so that they can support you and help others stick to it. You can be proud of how well you prepared.
What are some steps that ED sufferers can take to make Christmas feel more manageable?
You should try to keep your food in a set format, with 3 meals a days and snacks. However, you can eat whatever your ED desires.
You can plan ahead for social situations that are difficult or challenging by having support available before and after. You might be able to text your friend or bring a good friend along to support you. Sometimes, we need to let someone know we are struggling to cope with difficult situations.
Be kind to yourself. This is the best way to get through difficult times in your life. It is easy to forget the positive impact being more patient and compassionate towards ourselves can have. While your ED may not disappear during the holidays, it won’t take away from your holiday enjoyment. What do you like about this holiday season? Which movie is your favorite? Christmas jumper? What game to play? These are the things you should be focusing on.
Set boundaries. It is important to consider what we need this time of the year. You can set boundaries around people and family members that you are going to be around if you know it is going to cause distress or trigger you.
Do not isolate yourself. We can gently challenge the ED’s love for isolating people. You can think of ways to stay connected to the people and experiences you love, so you don’t feel isolated and lonely.
How can friends and family support someone with an ED at Christmas?
If Christmas will be difficult for your loved one, then you can name the problem and ask them what they need. People can become isolated because of the shame they feel about their struggles. You can show your love for someone by naming it and asking what you can do to help.
If you are struggling, it is important to know who in your support network will be available. They may have their own plans during the holiday period. This will make it easier to reach out and not worry about disturbing anyone.
Is there support or help available for people who feel isolated and need it during Christmas?
The Reframe and Rise up Facebook Group is run by coaches and clinicians. It is a free resource for anyone who is struggling. Find Your True Voice is also available. This guide will help you get started on your journey to recovery.
For those who are in active recovery from an eating disorder, Christmas can be difficult. Are there any encouraging phrases or affirmations that you can give to those who are struggling with their eating disorder?
- Did you know you are worthy to be loved and respected because you are a human being? This is not based on how you behave in the past.
- Did you know that your ED can be used to cope with emotional and life challenges and that you can leave behind your ED if you find new ways to cope? It is possible to recover even though it may seem impossible.
- Useful affirmations include “I accept myself”, “I am safe”, and “I deserve kindness.”
For those with food difficulties, eating in public is difficult. This is especially true during Christmas season when everyone is so friendly. How does one manage situations such as these that are beyond their control?
Before you enter these situations, make sure to use as many positive affirmations and mantras as possible. Our unwell voice often tries to control these situations and increase our anxiety. Remind yourself that your unwell voice wants to ruin your relationship with food and yourself. It is not something you can trust. Think about how you would talk to someone you love, and then practice the same approach toward yourself.
Mental rehearsal can also be very helpful in preparation. You can think about different snack and meal options and visualize the portion sizes. This will allow you to make recovery-focused decisions. You can have a snack, or a larger breakfast if you feel anxious about eating at times other than normal. Don’t arrive at the dinner table feeling hungry, tired or hungrier than you should be. This will increase your chances of eating poorly or avoiding special times with family and friends. You can use the Christmas meal’s unpredictable structure as a practice for your future as an intuitive, “normal” eater.
Are there any tips you can share to deal with insensitive comments made by family members about food and diet, particularly those who come from older generations that are less conscious of the effects of diet culture on their perceptions of food?
The unwell voice will make insensitive, clumsy, or even hurtful comments to reinforce the negative narrative it has about you. You can give yourself permission to stop feeling triggered. Take a deep breath and then re-engage when you feel more comfortable. You should prioritize your well-being if you notice that some people are not responding to your cues.
It can be very helpful to openly talk to your family about your eating disorders to help you build a support network during difficult times. These are some ways to make this conversation less scary.
Be courageous. Be brave. Talking more makes it easier and we feel less ashamed and alone. You are not alone. There are others out there who understand your feelings, have been on similar journeys and can help.