Table with Christmas candle burning

Coping at Christmas with an eating disorder

Written by Thomas Freeston, Kent Union Vice-President Welfare and Community.

Trigger Warning: Food and Eating Disorders.

The Christmas period can be a challenging time for those struggling with their relationship with food. Food undoubtedly plays a large part in Christmas and winter celebrations. From the social aspect (e.g., work Christmas outings, Christmas food markets with friends etc.), to the traditions (e.g., Christmas dinner or advent calendars). The large focus around food consumption can be potentially triggering and exhausting.

Regardless of whether you have a diagnosed eating disorder or not, the emphasis on food can be difficult to navigate. Feelings of guilt, shame and pressure are usually common at this time.

Guilt for not eating as much as others, or for having food related difficulties during what is meant to be a joyful season.

Shame for eating more than you usually would, or for not being able to keep up to the same pace as others.

Pressure to alter your eating and exercise habits. Diet culture has created the expectation that the mere days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day are spent eating and should be followed by weeks of over exercising to compensate.

Here are some welfare tips to help you cope with the feelings that might arise due to the Christmas period:

  • Try to focus on the non-food related activities and discussions during Christmas. There is so much more that the festive season has to offer than just food! Focus on the aspects you do enjoy such as the Christmas lights or watching Christmas films or boardgames etc.
  • Make loved ones aware of avoiding questions based on food. You may decide to inform close relatives or friends to not mention these subjects as it could cause further anxiety and pressure in members who may be experiencing issues alone. For example, telling loves ones to not comment on people’s appearance or questioning what or how much food they are eating.
  • Have an exit plan – Christmas can be overwhelming to survive the holiday with an eating disorder, you may need to take some breaks. This can help you stay focused and calm. Find out where your Christmas lunch/dinner will be hosted. Work out some quiet places you can go off to and take some deep breaths just in case you need a break.
  • Signpost your family or friends to the Beat website so they have a clearer understanding of how they can support you during this time.

There is support available for you:

Beat – Eating Disorders: 0808 801 0677

Spectrum Life offers 24/7 emergency expert mental health support via phone, text, or WhatsApp.

Student Space: text STUDENT to 85258 or visit the student space website.

NHS Eating Disorders: Visit the NHS website to learn more.