What may be the most wonderful time of the year for most is actually a bit of a festive nightmare for someone like myself with disordered eating.
Disordered eating is the term for somebody who suffers with a number of different issues associated with food, eating and dieting, many of which are recognised signs and symptoms of other eating disorders, however this multitude of thought processes, worries and fears never quite add up to one single eating disorder and therefore, disordered eating becomes the problem.
Disordered eating is tough at the best of times. It’s confusing to say the least. For me, I can find myself battling the overwhelming voices in my head telling me I want to lose weight whilst also trying to ignore the unbearable urge to binge on unhealthy foods, so to say Christmas heightens these feelings and emotions is an understatement.
Christmas is about a lot of things, but one of the biggest parts of the festive season is undeniably food. From the tins of chocolate, to the biggest roast dinner of the year, to the countless buffets, to something as simple as an advent calendar, it seems like everything about December is associated with food and that’s a lot to take on for someone with disordered eating.
One of my biggest struggles with disordered eating is controlling my food intake. I do this for two reasons: one is to avoid gaining weight and the other is to avoid being sick, as I also have emetophobia, which is hugely fuelled by my eating problems. I’m terrified of being sick but I also bully myself when I feel sick that I was greedy and over ate, so these two thought processes combined have made me obsessive about how much I eat and how often.
I’m very strict with routine when it comes to eating and if there’s one thing Christmas does to your life in general, it’s throw any routine you have out the window. You’re waking up late, going to bed even later, there’s lots of nights out that leave you feeling pretty lazy the next day, you’re travelling a lot, you’re not at work – basically, Christmas kills routine and for someone who craves routine in their eating, this is HELL.
I’d say this is one of my biggest issues about Christmas when it comes to my disordered eating. I try to only allow myself three meals a day and then I’m also pretty strict about how much I’ll eat within those meals and what time I’ll have them at. Christmas throws all of that out the window.
Sometimes you eat two massive meals in a day, sometimes you pick on a buffet for hours on end and don’t eat a proper meal all day, it might sound like nothing to someone who doesn’t give a second thought to what or when they eat but for me and others suffering with disordered eating or any eating disorder, it’s constant mind games.
There’s no denying that all of the unhealthy foods, the lack of structure and the constant focus on eating is a lot for someone with eating problems to handle but I know from experience that it is possible to not just get through Christmas but actually enjoy it.
My best advice for someone with disordered eating at Christmas? Don’t try and cure your problems in a matter of days just because of the time of year. I’ve found myself trying to solve all my eating problems over Christmas because I was desperate to enjoy myself. I found myself trying to ignore the feelings towards food I’d been letting rule my life all year long. I found myself trying to force myself to overindulge in unhealthy foods when my mind was telling me to starve yet resisting the urge to eat when all I wanted to do was go crazy for calories – it’s not possible to turn your disordered eating off because it’s Christmas!
To not just survive Christmas with disordered eating but have a good time, you need to accept that you’ve got these problems going on and try and relax. Disordered eating naturally dictates your life in so many ways and you can’t stop that because it’s Christmas but you can relax, move your thoughts away from food and enjoy the many other elements of Christmas.
Try and focus on spending time with family doing other things aside from eating like watching movies, going on walks and playing games, it will help move your attention away from food and allow you some time to genuinely enjoy yourself.
As for dealing with food, my top tip would be to be honest with your friends and family about how you’re feeling, and try and work out a way of eating over Christmas that doesn’t totally scrap all routine, like trying to stick to the amount of meals a day you feel comfortable with.
My next tip for managing disordered eating at Christmas would be to not force yourself to eat foods that really mess with your anxieties and make your issues flare up. Most people with eating problems will have particular foods that cause them upset, so do not force yourself to eat these because it’s Christmas.
My final tip for managing disordered eating or any eating disorder at Christmas is to keep a food diary. Disordered eating is like a million voices in your mind telling you different things about food, eating and dieting, so it can be hard to think straight, so I find writing down what I have eaten and when helps me to manage these thoughts and keep myself calm and avoid getting upset or panicked.
Christmas with disordered eating is tough, it’s mentally exhausting but it can be a special time of year still if you allow yourself to accept your problems and have fun regardless.
Christmas is about family and fun, not food, so always keep that in mind when you’re dreading the festive season.
Useful websites and helplines: