Published on: 19 December 2019

Christmas can cause a lot of anxiety within families where someone is living with an eating disorder. With pressure to eat lots of food and attend family and other social gatherings, it can be difficult not to feel anxious and overwhelmed at this time of year.

There are things you can do to reduce some of this anxiety. Read on for advice from CAMHS eating disorders specialist nurse, Pamela Pearce.

Be prepared

Preparation is key to helping you to cope. Some people find it helpful to plan the big day, with regard to the Christmas menu, and decide what this will be in advance. This can help reduce anxiety. If you are staying with relatives, ask them what will be involved. It may also be good to talk to someone around issues that may arise, so that they may prepare other family members to prevent unwanted discussions.

Portion control

If you are really struggling with planning your meals ahead, you may find it more helpful to stick to your usual diet plan; or you can follow the Eat Well Guide, which is broken up into five individual groups.

All these groups are needed in these proportions for good health and to ensure you meet your body’s needs:

  • Fruit and vegetables (5 portions a day)
  • Starchy carbohydrates (1/3 of your plate should be made up of these)
  • Small amounts of fats and oils - needed for fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids and are not to be ignored as they are 'essential’
  • Three portions of dairy products which are the richest source of calcium and also contain essential proteins (a portion includes: a small pot of yoghurt, 1/3 pint of milk, a small matchbox size piece of cheese)
  • Three portions of non-dairy sources of protein i.e. meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, poultry, mycoproteins (general rule of thumb: the size of the palm of your hand and about the thickness of a deck of cards OR half a 400g tin).
Go easy on yourself

Christmas foods can be easily placed into each category, but Christmas is a time to enjoy yourself, so try and avoid being too ‘rigid’. Allow yourself some slack, acknowledge your emotions and accept that is how you are feeling. There may be moments when you feel out of control and it is OK to recognise this. Identify someone you trust who can support you during the festivities. This should be someone you can speak to fairly easily if you are struggling.

Find a distraction

Try not to discuss food or body shape during meal times; clearly this can be difficult if there are a lot of people present. Try to talk about other things too. Having a break from time to time by watching a film, listening to music or having a warm bath can be helpful in trying to relax.

Advice for parents

For parents/carers of a young person with an eating disorder, it might be helpful to plate up their meal for them along with the whole family rather than everyone helping themselves. Planning ahead and discussing what you will have beforehand may be helpful, and you may find that some of these ideas could reduce some of the anxiety that comes with having too much choice, or being allowed to make more ‘rigid’ choices. This idea could work well with buffet food too.

Remember the ‘big picture’

Remember: it is one day, it does not last forever! The most important thing is that you enjoy yourself, have fun and spend time with family and friends. Allow yourself some compassion and be kind to yourself.

Learn more about Derbyshire Healthcare’s eating disorders services