We all know that Christmas can be stressful. But when you are struggling with binge eating the festive period can be overwhelming: family start commenting about new year’s diets, everything centres around food, not to mention the pressure to have the ‘perfect’ day! It doesn’t have to be unbearable.
These simple tips can help you feel confident that you can manage Christmas dinner with binge eating disorder. (Plus get a free downloadable checklist because you don’t need eating disorder recovery to add to the mental load).
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Your support network
1. Identify someone who can have your back on the day
Does anyone know that you have binge eating disorder? It’s really hard to do this alone. So if the answer is no, now is the time to take a deep breath and tell someone you need help.
Who is going to be there on Christmas day? Out of these people, who are you closest with? Who could you take a break with, share a hug with, or even just share a look when uncle Tony talks about the latest diet fad?
You don’t need to tell them everything. Some people will be comfortable doing this. But others might just need someone who knows that Christmas might be a little rough for you this year.
If this feels too much, or if your close network might react in unhelpful ways, you can also contact the BEAT helpline to speak to someone who will ‘get it’.
Professionals can also be part of your network. Most therapists will take some time off over the festive period. You could use some of this time to research how to find a good therapist so you’re ready to go in the new year.
2. Plan a response for those difficult comments
Diet culture is everywhere. And sometimes people will says things they don’t realise can be hard to hear if you have an eating disorder. Have a plan in advance for when they come up (because they probably will).
I would keep a few options up your sleeve. You may have more or less energy on the day. A low energy response could be as simple as smiling and changing the subject.
Uncle Tony: I’m starting Keto in January, you should try it!
You: I’ve heard that works well for some people. Is work going to be busy for you in Jan?
You could also give them a gentle nudge:
You: I hope it works for you. I’m trying something different this year, I’m really working on listening to my body’s hunger cues.
You might also want to let your person from point 1 re-direct the conversation.
Sometimes an internal mantra is best:
“Everyone has different needs. I am focussing on repairing my relationship with food. This is what my body needs”.
3. Who is coming on Christmas day?
Do you have a choice about who comes on the day? If the thought of lots of people is likely to add to your stress, consider taking a step back this year. Can you let people know that you need a quiet Christmas? Or if you are going to someone else’s, can you shorten the day so you get some down time in your own home?
Planning Christmas day
4. Stick to regular eating
It is tempting to restrict what you eat in the run up to Christmas. Lots of people try to ‘make up’ for the Christmas food.
The problem is that the more you restrict, the more likely you are to binge when the food does come. Stick to eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day whilst you are recovering from binge eating. You want to keep your blood sugar stable so that your body is not craving carbohydrates to replace energy stores.
5. Plan the food & portion sizes.
Most people find it helpful to have a rough idea ahead of time of what they will be eating on the day. Doing this prep ahead of time means you don’t have to do this when emotions are running high at meal times. If you are doing the cooking, see if there is someone who can do this task with you.
It also means you can plan an appropriate portion size. In many households Christmas dinner is served buffet style at the table. For some people this can increase stress about how much food to put on the plate. This nutrition guide gives example portion sizes for key ingredients. But remember, eating more than usual at Christmas is common. Eating more is not the same as binging.
6. Expect Christmas dinner is going to be late
Some people find meal timings stressful. If you have allowed yourself enough food earlier in the day this might be less important (if you are starving an hour delay in a meal will feel like a very long time).
It might be worth running with the expectation that if dinner is planned to be at 1pm, it might not arrive until 3. Some people find it helpful to keep a snack bar handy so that you can avoid becoming overly hungry and binging.
7. Avoid food rules
As well as under-eating, food rules are one of the main causes of binge eating. Allow yourself to eat a range of foods to help stop you binging. A lot of people I work with will try and avoid particular foods (e.g. biscuits, cheese, carbs). If they end up eating some of these foods it triggers guilt and a ‘I’ve already messed up’ state of mind. This often means people binge.
But don’t only allow yourself to eat these foods on Christmas Day! If, in the back of your mind, you are not sure when you’ll be allowed to eat cheese again, you are more likely to binge on it.
8. Binge foods
Some people who struggle with binge eating find that particular foods are much more likely to trigger a binge than others.
Whether or not you decide to include these foods on Christmas Day will depend on your stage of recovery. If you are right at the beginning, you might want to avoid that one or two highly triggering foods. You are already challenging yourself a lot. Consider choosing different foods that you enjoy and tackling binge foods another time.
If you are further into recovery, you have probably already experimented by adding these foods back into your diet outside of binges. If you are ready to throw yourself into the process try to treat ‘binge foods’ as any other food and keep them part of your diet.
MANAGING CHRISTMAS DINNER
9. Don’t over-do alcohol
Aim to drink in moderation (or not at all if this is your preference). Alcohol causes us to lose our inhibitions and can make binge eating more likely. This can be difficult at Christmas if others are drinking a lot. Try getting in your favourite soft drinks, or alcohol free alternatives, and alternate drinks.
On the other hand, lots of people avoid drinking because they are worried about the calorie content. If you want to enjoy a glass of bucks fizz or Baileys, take the opportunity to challenge yourself.
10. Use Distractions
During the meal, distraction can be helpful. Now is the time to lean into the bad Christmas jokes, background music and maybe even a few icebreaker games. If you have a supportive person with you, think about them sitting next to you so they can prompt some conversation or pass you a cracker to pull.
11. Pace yourself
When you are struggling with an eating disorder, meals can become very long or very fast. For most families, Christmas dinner is a longer meal than usual. Have an activity planned for after the meal (e.g. Christmas movie, board game, gentle walk). Avoid sitting at the table for a very long time as this can increase anxiety and the urge to binge.
12. Try to let go of the struggle
People with binge eating disorder often experience a lot of negative thoughts during meals:
“You shouldn’t be eating that”, “people will judge you”, “you are disgusting”.
The more we try and argue with these thoughts, the more of these thoughts we tend to get. Instead of trying to talk back or push such thoughts away, try to just notice them. You could say to yourself “ah, here is another eating disorder thought” or visualise them passing by. The idea is that we can’t control what thoughts pop into our head, but we can control how we react to them.
This is a core concept in ACT therapy, Russ Harris has created several videos on how to build a new relationship with our thoughts.
After the meal
13. Urge surfing
After the meal you might find that the urge to binge is very strong. Urge surfing is the concept that urges to binge reach a peak in intensity, and then gradually reduce. Focus on just getting through the peak (rather than the whole rest of the day).
You can do this in two ways. First, you could decide to just delay binging by a set amount of time (e.g. 5 mins – 1 hour). After the time period is over, you may find the urge to binge has reduced. If it hasn’t, you can allow yourself to binge or decide to delay again by another time period.
The other key method is distraction. As we talked about above, plan some favourite activities for after a meal and throw yourself into these. If you notice your attention drifting back to food, gently redirect your thoughts to the task at hand. You might also want to do something that keeps you busy, even basic activities like washing up with some music in the background can bridge the gap.
14. Don’t weigh yourself
You might be tempted to weigh yourself after Christmas to see if it has had an impact on your weight. Don’t do this. Weight fluctuates for a number of reasons (hydration, hormones, time of day) and you won’t be able to draw any conclusions about your body composition. Weighing yourself excessively will likely increase thoughts about weight and/or food and make the problem worse in the long run.
If you are doing CBT for binge eating, stick to weighing yourself at the set time. This will normally be in your therapy session. If you are not having therapy over the Christmas period, speak to your therapist about whether you skip a week, or weigh yourself at the usual time at home.
15. Take time out
Christmas can be very busy and overwhelming. Plan some time in your day where you can take a break from the celebrations. For most people using distraction after meals is best. But you might want to find time to decompress at other points. For example you might walk the dogs before Christmas lunch or take a bath in the evening after everything has wound down.
Remember, Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect. There is a lot of pressure out there to have a wonderful day. If you do binge, try not to beat yourself up. This is part of the process, Christmas is a challenging time and practicing compassion towards ourselves is a huge part of getting better.
Use this list to help make yourself a plan of how to manage Christmas dinner with binge eating disorder. And try to enjoy the parts that aren’t about food.
CLICK HERE FOR YOUR FREE DOWNLOADABLE CHECKLIST:
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