Advice for those struggling with eating disorders during 2020's COVID Christmas
Many people have struggled with their mental health this year, which has been an unprecedented time of suffering and hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.
This Christmas period certainly brings new challenges, particularly for those with an eating disorder, as the season’s pressures threaten to stand in the way of a healthy relationship with food. 2020 has been marked by loss of life, redundancies, business closures, financial difficulties and general separation from friends and family during government restrictions. The eating disorder charity BEAT have said that they’ve seen a surge in calls since the start of the pandemic, for support with issues around conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED) and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OFSED).
As the year closes, it may feel like many people are approaching the holidays with relief by over-indulging in eating and drinking. It’s almost expected for people to celebrate in any way possible, as the rules around social gatherings meaning that many of us will spend the season away from friends and family, unable to participate in the usual festive traditions or at least restricted to our support bubble. All of these factors mean that this year can be even more difficult to cope with for those who have issues with food.
Here are a few tips to manage the festive season if you’re faced with an eating disorder.
Try to maintain regular contact with people
The stress of living in socially-distanced conditions can lead many people to rely on, or restrict, food as a way of coping.
Even if you can’t see as many people this Christmas, it’s important not to reduce your contact with loved ones and friends. Having someone you can open up to about what you’re going through, or even just engaging in regular conversation around what you’re doing each day, can make a huge difference in how alone you might feel at this time of year. Having a support network of people you can call will hugely benefit your ability to enjoy the season, and to maintain a stable mind set which will keep you on track with your goals for dealing with disordered eating.
Try to maintain a regular routine
Having our routines disrupted this year has meant that many people have struggled with shopping for food, as our trips out of the home have often been limited. As the queues and crowds increase during the Christmas rush, this can mean that there is even more anxiety around visiting the supermarket. If this is the case, you may wish to make the trip with someone from your support bubble or household, or ask them to go for you if you’re comfortable with them shopping for what you need. Write down back-up options for if items are out of stock, so that you still have safe foods in the house. Try to shop as far ahead of Christmas as possible, if you can – but remember, the supermarkets will only be closed for one day, so don’t feel like you have to buy enough for the whole season in one trip.
Also, try to encourage healthy activities that will benefit you emotionally, such as walks in nature with your family. Don’t put pressure on yourself to exercise in order to make up for any indulgences, but make sure you don’t give yourself too much time to sit and dwell on any guilt you might have about eating rich foods, for example.
Plan ahead to manage stress triggers
It can also be useful to anticipate when family gatherings, support bubble meet-ups and even Zoom calls might put strain on your state of mind. If you’re prepared for difficult situations and have plans in place to deal with them, you won’t be as tempted to fall into unhealthy eating habits, such as binging or restricting food, further impacting your mental wellbeing.
One triggering situation common at this time of year is sit-down meals, so be mindful of what you agree to attend. If it will be too difficult to sit and eat with others at the table, think about how you can avoid the stress of that situation – either take a rain check or perhaps suggest a buffet instead, for example if you’ll be eating with your parents or other close family or friends. If none of this is possible and you don’t want to miss out on being with people, then try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Treat any festive meal as you would any other throughout the year.
Whatever you’re going through over Christmas and beyond, Life Works can help you to improve your relationship with yourself and food. The longer eating disorders are left untreated, the more long-term damage they can do to your mental and physical health. It’s important to reach out as soon as possible if you need support, so that we can help you to take the steps to recovery and live out the future that you’ve dreamed of and deserve.
This blog was reviewed by David Waller, (MA Oxon, Postgraduate Certificate in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, Postgraduate Diploma in Addiction Psychology and Counselling with Distinction, Registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP)), Eating Disorder Programme Lead at Life Works.