Coping with an eating disorder during a COVID Christmas
Although Christmas looks very different in 2020, the festive period will still provide some form of relief for many people after the challenges of this year. With the widespread loss of loved ones, record redundancies and general difficulties of isolation and social distancing, the pandemic has had a significant impact on many people’s mental health. But if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, it’s completely understandable if you’re worried that Christmas may exacerbate your challenges, rather than being a time for rest and relaxation.
The leading eating disorder charity, BEAT, reported an increase in calls throughout this year. As COVID-19 changed the way we live, people with conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED) and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OFSED) have reached out for professional support like never before. So if you’re worried about how to handle all of the excess eating and drinking around you this Christmas, as well as the continued separation from family and friends, we can help.
Here’s some expert advice around managing the festive season while living with an eating disorder.
Try to talk to people every day
You may have lived alone through the pandemic, in a small household or with a bigger family unit. Whatever your situation, many of us will have experienced some form of loneliness, with the pain of not being able to see people throughout lockdown and the subsequent tier systems. This may have led you to carry out unhealthy eating behaviours, whether that’s relying on binges, restricting food intake or even excessively exercising with the increased free time.
So try to let this inform how you move forward over Christmas, and remember that speaking to other people is proven to have many benefits for our mental health. Keep a list of people you know you can call, and promise yourself you’ll call at least one person each day. Opening up about how you feel each day, to someone you trust, will provide you with a valuable sense of support. Even just talking about your day, or listening to someone people talk about theirs, can make you feel a sense of togetherness and boost your self-esteem. This, in turn, will reduce many of the negative emotions that can lead to the triggers of eating disorder symptoms.
Keep a sense of normality in your routine
We’ve all had our usual routines completely interrupted this year, which is likely to have left you feeling highly unsettled. The long supermarket queues have been a significant source of anxiety for many people, plus the recent swelling crowds in high streets and shopping centres for the Christmas rush. If you find it too stressful going out food shopping at the moment, then plan ahead to manage how you’ll purchase your necessary supplies.
If online deliveries aren’t available, you can either ask someone from your household or support bubble to visit the supermarket with you for support, or provide them with a list and ask them to go for you, to collect what you need if you’re comfortable with that. Have back-up options in case anything is out of stock, so that you don’t end up being without your safe foods. Try to shop well in advance of Christmas Day so that you feel prepared – however, don’t panic too much about the shops closing as it will only be for one day, so you don’t need to create extra stress trying to stockpile foods.
You can also plan in some healthy activities to look forward to, with gentle outdoor exercise such as walking being very effective for good mental health. This is particularly true with us all spending much more time indoors this Christmas, compared with previous years. Although it’s not the party season it once was, we can use this to our advantage and create new traditions, which will be much better for our wellbeing than waking up with hangovers from the pub. Don’t pressure yourself to use exercise to try and make up for any indulgences, though. Keep a nice balance between getting outside and sitting indoors ruminating on guilt over enjoying a treat.
Form a plan to manage stressful situations
It’s completely normal to feel like Christmas isn’t always (or ever) the perfect time it’s made out to be. None of us are living through a fairytale festive season straight from a greeting card, as there are many demands to contend with – from gift-buying to arranging house guests, Christmas dinners to spending time away from the home. All of those pressures are even more keenly felt this year.
So rest assured that if you’re feeling nervous about any of this, such as spending more time with family or preparing for consuming the most anticipated meal of the year, you’re not the only one. Write down all of the potentially stressful situations you might face on each day of Christmas, and note a way to make those circumstances better for yourself. This could mean turning down invites, even if it’s only to a Zoom call where people will be drinking, if they’re going to be too distressing for you and aren’t with close family or friends you want to prioritise. Suggesting buffets instead of sit-down meals could be another solution, when you’re scheduled for celebrations with people within government guidelines. On Christmas Day, this is unlikely to be achievable, so just try to treat it like you would any meal on a normal day. Being aware of where the sources of tension will lie, ahead of each day, will help you to reduce the discomfort you feel and increase your sense of control over what will happen.
If you’re worried that you have an eating disorder, Priory can help you to lessen your symptoms, both in the short-term and further down the line. If any mental health condition isn’t treated in a timely manner, it can have serious long-term effects on your health and happiness. We’ve treated many people with various eating disorders and helped them to lead a better life, with significant relief from their former challenges. There’s every reason that you can get better and go on to live out a more fulfilling future too.