Christmas, eating and you
If you have a difficult relationship with food, then Christmas can be an extremely daunting time. Whether you are someone who restricts and strives to control your food intake meticulously; or maybe you overeat or binge in response to the abundance of ‘trigger foods’, then either way, this is a time of year that is potentially very challenging. Turkey, mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas cake, brandy butter, roast potatoes, tins of Roses chocolates, nuts… they are all readily available over the festive period in lavish quantities, and often presented out of a normal eating routine including buffets; long lengthy alcohol fuelled lunches or late night parties with plentiful supplies of nibbles.
And of course, whilst managing the above, you might also feel the pressure to look slim, toned and glowing in a new and sparkly party dress, as you socialise easily with your family and work colleagues, smiling and remaining full of festive cheer. How on earth you wonder, are your meant to manage this and actually enjoy the whole scenario? Just the thought of it might already be rousing distress and panic, alongside feelings of despondency and hopelessness as you have nothing new; nothing fits and you are a long way from the glossy version of yourself that you hoped to achieve by Christmas.
To make matters worse, you may be secretly dreading seeing the family and spending time in enclosed spaces for extended time periods whilst simultaneously eating and drinking and supposedly enjoying yourself. Even the thought of this perplexing mix of food management, body image distress and relationships might be sending you off in to unhelpful ways of coping and feeling out of control around food. It is very common that your relationship with food can be particularly tricky to manage in the run up to Christmas.
When you are struggling with food issues, you might feel very alone in your thoughts and worries. It can feel as if you are the only one feeling like this. Everyone else seems to be coping wonderfully and actually enjoying themselves. You might be feeling cross with yourself that you can’t just ‘put on the happy front’ and pretend it’s all okay. Maybe you are feeling like hiding away and making excuses for not joining in the celebrations. Maybe you feel you have to join in but then secretly use food as a means of getting you through. It might feel like your guilty friend, offering comfort and security amidst the Christmas chaos. Either way, the knowledge that you are doing this, may elicit unhealthy doses of self-loathing and self-criticism.
Christmas (and the rest of the year for that matter) does not have to be this way. Over-eating, under-eating and/or an unhealthy obsession with your body size are all ways that you might be using as a coping strategy for life – albeit in the short-term. These ways of coping can all be used (often unconsciously) to deal with relationships; emotions; difficult thoughts and to enhance self-esteem. Of course, longer-term, they don’t really work and can create a whole new set of problems. Once you are in this complicated place with eating, you might be feeling stuck and confused. You may not know how to find a way out.
If you recognise that your relationship with food and your body image is unhealthy it can be helpful to seek support through counselling. With a therapist, you can begin to explore your relationship with food and your body in a safe space. You can start to understand the origins of your eating problem and become more self-aware. You can learn new strategies for coping so that food can be something that is enjoyable and a pleasure, rather than something that creates anxiety and fear. Once food has its rightful place in your world, alongside achieving greater body acceptance, you are then free to get on with living.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a Counsellor, Blogger, Writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and at Weight Matters in London.
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