Christmas day is nearly here. If you have an eating disorder, or you have one in your household, you know how stressful a time this can be.
I’m sick of eating disorders ruining things. I bet you are too. Let’s plan not to allow it to ruin this Christmas!
Preparation is key if you want to reduce eating disorder stress. So is communication.
Key to reading this:
EDCP = Eating Disorder Check Person. This is the spouse, partner, friend, parent, whoever the support person is as outlined by my Adult Recovery Guides.
EDS = Eating Disorder Suffer.
Regardless of who you are, EDCP or EDS, read all the points as written here, as you will learn about the other person’s point of view.
Christmas Day Eating Disorder Contract
I wrote this up so that both sufferers and family members who are helping them recover from an eating disorder can have an additional contract to whatever they have put in place as suggested by my recovery guides. Contracts are super. They force conversation around a difficult subject in an organized and supportive manner.
EDSs: If you are a sufferer working alone you can still use this contract, you just have to draw it up and sign it for yourself. I strongly recommend that you find a family member or friend to help you with this. Remember that your eating disorder hates it when you expose it by bringing other people into the conversation. All the more reason to do just that!
The idea of an additional Christmas Day contract is that it provides structure for the holiday, it also acknowledges that holidays are particularly hard for people with eating disorders, and proactively starts a discussion around ways in which this can be addressed.
EDCPs: All too often, the eating disorder becomes the elephant in the room again at Christmas. If you are acting as an EDCP it is important that you draw the EDS into conversation around this as early as possible. Remember, a symptom of the disorder is trying to hide the anxiety and stress that the disorder creates. Do not wait for the EDS to come to you and initiate conversation about the stress they are feeling. You have to make the first move.
Also, I have already published some posts this year on Christmas parties and the like leading up to Christmas Day that you might find helpful.
Things that are addressed in the contract:
EDCPs: Before, during and after Christmas Day, the eating disorder sufferer will feel compelled to exercise more. Pay close attention to this as if they are allowed to do so the eating disorder will become stronger. No negotiations. If a person is underweight they should not be exercising at all — even before or during a holiday.
EDSs: Compulsive exercise is something that is rife among adult sufferers of eating disorders. The eating disorder tells us that if we exercise more it will allow us to eat more. This is an ED lie. Most sufferers report an increase in eating disorder thoughts and behaviors when they increase exercise, not a reduction.
Awareness is key. Don’t get sucked into the eating disorder’s lies. Know that when it puts pressure on you to work out more that you have to do the exact opposite in order to regain control of your mind and your life.
Meal plan structure.
EDSs: You should be following a 3 meals and 3 snacks per day meal plan and this is not to alter due to Christmas.
EDCPs: An eating disorder sufferer will likely feel compelled to miss meals especially on days that there are parties planned in the evenings, Christmas Eve, and breakfast on Christmas day.
Just like with the exercise, the eating disorder will like and tell the sufferer that it will allow them to eat more later if they restrict food now. And, just like exercise, this never works out to be true.
Meal skipping and meal plan disruption strengthens the eating disorder and will actually make eating Christmas dinner harder. All meals have to be eaten as per the meal plan. The Christmas dinner or any other family meals. should be written into the meal plan for that week.
Christmas Day Planning
When you write up the contract, have a planning meeting. Cover all the points in the contract, and add your own as you see fit. Also have a look at the points below and discuss a game plan.
Party Check-Ins and ED Thought Externalization
If there is a party planned in the evening, the EDS and EDCP need to plan check ins during the day to make sure that meals and snacks are eaten that day as per usual — no skipping. Additionally, plan a check in before you go out. I reckon about an hour before you are due to leave the house, sit down with a cup of tea and have a chat. Just see how anxiety levels are and allow the sufferer to externalize the eating disorder thoughts if they are having them.
By externalize, I mean say it out loud. Often when we do this, the irrationality of the eating disorder thoughts is clearer to us and we are better able to dismiss them. Embarrassment usually stops us from volunteering to do this. This is why it is important that the support person makes it clear that thought externalization is a good idea.
Remember: Sufferers in Stage One recovery as outlined by my recovery guides should be focused on weight restoration and mealtime consistency. For this reason, it is often advisable to continue to eat as per the meal plan and go out to parties etc after having already eaten.
Christmas Day Check-Ins
It is important that the EDS and EDCP check in a couple of times during the day. For example, if you are at a family gathering, things can be hectic. Pre-plan a check in time.
Example: if you are arriving at your mother-in-laws at 11am for a 1pm Christmas dinner, make sure that you have a 12:30pm check in planned where you both go outside or somewhere you can talk in private. In this time the EDCP should check in with the EDS about how they are feeling, levels of anxiety, and help brainstorm ways of reducing anxiety if required. You should also plan to do this sometime after the meal.
Can’t think of an excuse to get away for a check in? Get creative and pre-plan what your excuse can be. I would do something like leave a present in the car so that you both have an excuse to go outside and get it.
Preparing the Family
You can’t expect extended family to understand an eating disorder. I mean honestly most healthcare professionals don’t seem to have much of a grip on what at eating disorder is. Let’s not be too hopeful that Great Aunt Sally has a clue. Be prepared for stupid comments such as “are you still on that funny diet?” from someone, or, “oh, haven’t you gotten over that yet?”
Yes, it is infuriating. Yes it is ignorant. But they only reason you and I know different is because we have been unwittingly shoved into this world of eating disorders via either having one or loving someone who has one. We can’t really blame everyone else for not knowing that they are brain-based illnesses and not a diet-gone-bad.
What we can do, is educated them. I wrote up this Christmas Eating Disorder Two-Pager that if you like you can send to family members ahead of time. It’s only two pages because … let’s be honest, much more than that for a starting point is not going to get read or understood. If people want more information then you can point them to it.
This is designed purely as a bit of an explanation and what to do, what not to do that you can give to loved ones so that they understand a little bit more about what an eating disorder sufferer is going through, and how not to put their foot in it (no guarantees there!)
It is important that the eating disorder sufferer doesn’t plate up their own food. Seriously, it really makes everything so much easier!
EDSs: Make sure that you ask you EDCP or a family member to plate your food for you. You don’t have to make a big deal about this or make it obvious. Just lazily go sit down at the table as if you are too nonchalant to care about plating your own food and ask your EDCP to do it.
If you don’t have an EDCP, them casually ask your mother, mother-in-law, someone’s child, or whomever is closest if they mind setting a plate for you.
I know that you don’t want to do this. Or rather, your eating disorder doesn’t want you to do this. Guess why? Because it knows that you have a greater chance of eating successfully if you let someone else plate for you. Trust me, you have to take food control away from your eating disorder in order of having a hope in hell of ever getting it back yourself.
EDCPs: Plating food is your deal. Just plate an adequate sized meal. You don’t have to go crazy and plate up a huge dinner for the EDS, just a regular sized meal. Unless they ask for more of course!
Get a grip — it’s just another meal
There is this rather annoying cultural perception that everyone has to stuff themselves to the point of bursting in order to enjoy Christmas dinner. It’s not true. Christmas dinner is just another meal. It is not the last supper. You don’t have to eat enough to last you though the whole of 2017 in one sitting. Some people want to do this, that’s fine.
EDSs: Put Christmas dinner into perspective. You only have to eat a portion that is adequate for that meal. You don’t have to turn into a food black hole and suck in the entire contents of the kitchen in order to have a nice family Christmas dinner. Don’t let your eating disorder blow this all out of proportion.
EDCPs: Help your sufferer by reminding them that Christmas dinner isn’t a big deal. It’s just another meal.
EDSs: Be prepared for your eating disorder to throw a tantrum and call you all sorts of names — that is what eating disorders do!
There are certain post-Christmas dinner truths:
- The dog will try and raid the trash to get the turkey bones.
- Someone will fall asleep on the coach and start snoring.
- People will begin to get sick of one another and start bickering
- Your eating disorder will try and make you feel like shit.
You know it is going to do it. So don’t let it. Plan not to let it. Distraction activities are the deal here. And that is why God created Trivial Pursuit.
EDCPs: Distract. Play games. Don’t leave too much thinking space. Check in about an hour after the meal to see how they are doing and how anxiety levels are.
Don’t skip meals. Don’t exercise. Don’t do the Christmas dinner post mortem.
Eat as per your meal plan. Every. Darn. Day. That includes Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day etc.
Don’t exercise if you are underweight. If you are weight restored and are on a dosed and moderate exercise routine then do not be fooled into doing more exercise than in your plan.
Don’t do the Christmas dinner post mortem. No good ever comes of that. It was a meal. You ate it. Fantastic. Move on.
I hope this helps. Shout me via email if you have any questions. Also, remember that I have Slack groups that are peer support forums for both adults in recovery and caregivers of adults in recovery. You can join those and get additional support.
Happy Christmas everyone — Tabs xx