Guest post from Hope Virgo, Author and Mental Health Campaigner
Christmas… a word that carries so much emotion and energy. As I write this I realise that pretty much every time that word is said out of a “work context”, my brain goes into turmoil, my chest tightens and I start to get this flood of emotions. “Will the plan change?” “What will happen?” “What if someone says something?” The list for Christmas anxiety can at times feel endless! So first things first I wanted to remind you that whatever you are feeling about Christmas is valid.
For so many Christmas does carry a lot of joy, but there are also millions of others who find it fearful, scary and the uncertainty too much to navigate at points. Those individuals who may or may not have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Added on to this; and this effects all of us; is the infiltration of diet culture in the 21st Century! And I am not going to open up the can of worms here but what I am going to say (before I give you some practical tools to help you get through this season) is that diet culture profits off people feeling guilty around Christmas; so this year let’s keep a check with ourselves to ensure we are not infiltrating that messaging inwardly and outwardly too!
Here is the bit you have all been waiting for thought – five things that I do around Christmas that really help me to find the season less intense:
Plan, plan, plan!
Have a rough outline of what your Christmas period will look like; make sure this includes the days before and the days afterwards. Depending on where you are at in your recovery from an eating disorder will determine how much structure you put around this but for me it is about having a rough outline with key meals planned, some timings embedded and always making sure that I have some time for myself! It is really helpful, if you are able to, to share this with someone who might be with you for Christmas so that you know that certain elements of the plan will happen!
Identify your support network
Eating disorders want us to feel isolated, alone and like we are the odd one out, but it is important that we assess who we have around us. Is there one person that you can be honest with about what is going on? You don’t necessarily need to be with them on the day, but have them on hand if you need to check in and send a quick message.
Predict what the Eating Disorder will say!
I recently talked to Isa Robinson and she had this amazing idea! We can (most of the time) predict what the eating disorder is going to say! I know in the past on Christmas Day mine would have made me believe I was eating more than everyone else, that maybe I had eating too much and that I am uncomfortably full. When it is not dominating my thinking I am able to switch off from this and move forward so before the eating disorder starts sucking you in on the day make sure you have this list in place with the predictions and the reality. Write it down so you can take it out if you need to!
Distraction is key!
Have those things in place before and after meals – watching TV, going for a nice walk with someone, playing a board game…!
Move on diet chat!
We all have that person that we know who obsesses over diet culture, and who more often than not feels like we all need to change up what we are doing when it comes to food, weight, calories… you name it! But sitting at a table where somewhere is often talking about dieting, or commenting on plate size can feel really challenging. If this happens to you, keep the conversation moving on. Have those ideas up your sleeve ready to bring out if helpful; comment on the weather, ask a direct question about what they did last weekend… all of this will help you to move the focus!
There is no denying it, Christmas can be a really challenging time for so many people. And for all of us we have our reasons why it might feel hard, but think about what you can do to make the period better for you, try not to feel selfish doing that, and keep taking those steps forward. There might be moments when it gets too much but hold on to those motivators in your recovery, push forward and hold on to the truth that those feelings do pass! And remember; if it all goes wrong, you can start again the next day!