Christmas with an eating disorder: Our top tips

Cue jingly music… ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year…la la la la… it’s the hap-happiest season of all…’


Is it though? For many it really isn’t and as the festivities pick up the pace, the panic of all-things-Christmas can feel overwhelming. For those with eating disorders, the focus on food at seemingly every social occasion, the change to routine, and potential concerns about body image and eating in the presence of others, can create a situation that feels increasingly out of control.

There may be, however, various ways in which you can make the festive period much more manageable (and maybe even enjoyable…)

1. Make a plan

Everyone likes to have a plan (or is that just me…?) and Christmas is a time when having a plan can be all the more reassuring. I’m not talking about the rigid plans that eating disorders tend to favour, but something with a bit of in-built flexibility which can allow you to have more of the kind of Christmas you’d like to have. Consider what your plan needs to look like: whether that’s allowing yourself to be freer with food choices on particular occasions, or keeping to your usual routine as much as possible.

It might be that you need some space between social events and permission to say no sometimes. You might decide that having a social media ‘holiday’ is in order. Everyone’s plan will be slightly different depending on where they are in their recovery journey. Be realistic, and try to allow some room for manoeuvre if things change. If you’ve already given it some thought, the chances are you’ll be more prepared to put in place some useful ways to cope and avoid relying on old or unwanted behaviours.

2. Let trusted people know what you need

Whether it’s family members or a close friend, consider what you need from them to help make things that bit easier over the Christmas period. It might be requesting that meals are a ‘serve yourself’ affair, that you’re seated next to someone in particular or that you have a hand in helping to cook. You might value some reassurance at particularly stressful times or for someone to just check-in with you periodically.

Consider the type of words that are helpful, and those that aren’t too. If comments about weight, food choices or appetite cause distress, try to inform others in advance so they know how to help. It sounds obvious but others can only know how to help if you let them know what that help looks like.

3. Swap ‘shoulds’ for ‘coulds’

Eating disorders often bring with them a set of (usually fixed) expectations of what you ‘should’ do. Whether that’s regarding exercise, the type or quantity of food you eat, or the use of compensatory behaviours - next time you hear a ‘should’ in your thoughts, repeat the thought again with a ‘could’ and notice how this can open up more options.

4. Not every activity over the festive period needs to include food/drink as the focus

Invite friends or family for a winter walk, watch a Christmas film at the cinema or at home, do an escape room together, arrange a craft evening making wreaths or cards, get tickets for the local panto, plan a games-night, or go ice-skating. Bring the focus away from eating and drinking and on to sharing an experience together.

5. Connect with nature

It’s no secret that being outdoors can bring about feelings of calm and balance, and the connection to nature can help us view our difficulties from a different perspective. If you can access an open space, whether that’s the local park or further afield in the countryside, take the opportunity to pause, breathe, and notice what you see and hear around you.

If you can’t access open spaces first-hand, research suggests that even being exposed to images of the outside world, such as photos of trees, or watching nature documentaries on the TV, is good for our mental health and has the power to induce a calming effect (Mental Health Foundation).

6. Practice self-compassion

Christmas can stir up many difficult feelings such as anxiety, overwhelm, loneliness and grief. This is not the time to heap on the self-criticism for feeling how you do, this is a time to let yourself know it’s hard, but that you’re doing your best in what may feel like an impossible situation. You’re human and imperfect, just like the rest of us, and recovery from an eating disorder has many ups and downs, so don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go the way you’d hoped.

Consider a different way of relating to yourself and try a simple self-compassionate exercise: close your eyes, take a few long, slow breaths, place a hand on your heart and let yourself know, with warmth and sincerity: ‘This is a moment of suffering. We all struggle in our lives. May I be kind to myself in this moment’. If you don’t relate to these words, create your own self-compassion mantra and use it regularly (there are lots of useful resources at and

7. Self-care

These buzzwords may conjure up images of bubble baths surrounded by scented candles; however, self-care is more than this, it’s about prioritising your own mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Acts of self-care are the things that you know help keep you well, help to keep you afloat, on a day-to-day basis, especially when life feels chaotic. For me, this includes getting outdoors, writing many, many, lists, and finding the time for an episode of Schitts Creek.

You’ll know what yours are, but there’s one thing knowing what these are, and it’s another thing doing them. So, if ever there was a time to prioritise putting these things into action, it’s now. Cringe alert but right now, you need you.

8. Gratitude

Developing a positive body image or even working towards body acceptance might feel out of reach at times. If this is the case, the practice of gratitude might seem more accessible. Our bodies do a lot for us every day, enabling us to experience life and connect with the world and other people.

Try to think of two or three things you can be grateful to your body for over the festive season, whether that’s the ability to go for a frosty morning walk, stroke your cat, or give and receive a hug from a friend or loved one.

9. It's normal not to be happy all of the time

Our social media might suggest that everyone around us is living the ultimate Christmastime fairytale, all families of matching pyjamas snuggling up in houses with a warm cosy glow. The reality of course, is far from it. Take a break from following people whose content tends to reinforce the illusion of perfection. Ask yourself ‘does following this person move me towards, or away from, recovery?’. Got the answer? You know what to do.

10. We’re all just winging it

There might be a part of us that thinks we should have it all worked out, that we should be able to cope (and not just cope, but to be exceptional – to succeed to the highest degree!), that anything less means we’ve failed or are less than worthy. It can be reassuring to remind ourselves that we’re human, we’re doing our best in the circumstances we find ourselves in, and that life can be pretty tough.

I’d just like to leave you with a gentle reminder that nothing is forever – ‘this too, shall pass’. Just as it doesn’t seem five minutes since the arrival of elves on shelves everywhere, in no time at all the decorations will be back in the attic for another year, the TV schedule will be back to its normal self, and you’ll be able to let yourself know you survived (and potentially even enjoyed some of) Christmas. Phew!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Derby, Derbyshire, DE1 1UL
Written by First Steps ED
Derby, Derbyshire, DE1 1UL

This article was written by Louise Bellamy, an integrative therapist at First Steps ED who has been supporting individuals with eating difficulties and disorders with the team for many years. Louise also incorporates Compassion Focused Therapy, Schema Therapy and Parts-work, into her practise.

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