A guide to navigating the festive season
The holiday season can be a challenging and difficult time of year for people, particularly those experiencing eating disorders and their loved ones. Here are some helpful tips you may like to try over Christmas and the holidays to ensure you have a positive experience with family and friends.
1.Take the focus off food
Whilst there is a significant focus on food at Christmas time, it can be helpful to shift this focus and reflect on the things you’re grateful for in your life. Eating disorders often put a negative light on so many things, but remind yourself or your loved one of the things you or your loved one have appreciated through the year. Or, perhaps discuss the things that bring you joy (like family, friends, pets etc.) or even the things that have been good enough. Or, another option could be to set a realistic intention at the start of the day, write it down and refer to it at times over the day to help you through.
2. Plan for Christmas Day….
Someone experiencing an eating disorder may find it hard to enjoy Christmas day if the main focus is on food. So why not take the focus off the food and instead have a fairly ordinary meal on Christmas day. Perhaps offer your loved one a choice, for example fish ,turkey or pork. Once the meal is finished all the food can be cleared away and your family can focus on other things they enjoy doing. Plan to go for a walk, play games, watch a movie, play some music, do some dancing etc. Suddenly Christmas can be a time that can be enjoyed by the whole family, even the person experiencing an eating disorder.
3…And the days following
It’s important to remember that often people experiencing eating disorders prepare and get through Christmas day quite well and it’s the days shortly after where emotional fatigue may set in with a strong and intense eating disorder voice. Sometimes the time between Christmas and New Year seems to last forever and involve so much food & drink. You may want to plan activities that the whole family can enjoy which don’t revolve around food. Once Christmas day is over there is so many things to do…… cinema, theatre, shopping, activity days out and unique holiday events. Again, try to keep mealtimes as normal as possible & then put the food away.
4. Give your loved one a free pass.
Let your loved one know that you recognise that the Christmas period may bring up challenges that they might face throughout this period. Let them know that they are allowed to take time out, leave the room or leave early if they need to. Plan ahead so you have a code that they can signal to you to say they need to take a break without everyone else needing to know. You might pre-arrange for a sibling or favourite relative to be ready to go outside to play with pets or to do another activity with someone who understands what you are experiencing and can just let you be in that moment.
5. Plan for those unhelpful relatives
We all have those well-meaning relatives or friends who have the best intentions but may say or do things that can affect you or your loved one’s wellbeing. Comments such as:
- Haven’t you done well eating that meal?
- Is that all you’re having?
- Look how much is on your plate.
- Gosh you do look well or you look so healthy (which can in particularly be misinterpreted by the eating disorder mind-set)
These comments are unhelpful and can be harmful to your loved one. It may be helpful to brief these people beforehand or share this resource with them so they can feel like they come to family events prepared. Having a blanket rule for everyone can also really help – “We will not talk about food, weight or shape today” – although be warned that someone might forget this and slip up. Time spent with your loved one contingency planning for unhelpful comments and coming up with some useful strategies is invaluable.
6. Be prepared for insensitive comments
Part of recovery is learning to deal with people who may say unhelpful things or not be aware that what they are doing or saying can have a negative impact. Perhaps you and your loved ones can role play and prepare for these circumstances. Some useful strategies to divert attention away from the insensitive comment/action might include:
- Change the subject
- Tell a funny joke
- Blow loudly on a party blower
- Have a code (e.g. a loud cough) and free pass to walk away
- Think up some useful phrases (for you or your loved one to say) and practice saying them beforehand
- “We agreed not to make comments about food today.”
- “Could we change the subject?”
- “It isn’t helpful to me when people talk about food, weight or shape.”
- “I would prefer it if we could talk about something else.”
7. Reflect and plan for the year ahead
The festive season can also be about reflecting on the year gone past and planning for the one ahead. You could write down your reflections or chat with your family and loves ones. Think about what things have gone well this year, and what things you would like to do better in 2020. Thinking about our values can point us in the right direction of how we want the following year to be different. Values are goals that we can never obtain, but we have to keep working on, such as being kind. You don’t wake up one day as a kind person never having to work at it again! Values need to be worked on each and every single day, regardless of what happened yesterday. Values aren’t a map that tells us exactly where to go, instead they are like a compass guiding us in the right general direction for our decisions and actions. So, what do you want 2020 to look like? Using values can help us create and plan for recovery and carer support journey.
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