The festive season can feel like a daunting time, especially if you have an eating disorder. There can often be a greater focus on food, mealtimes and eating in general. Added to this, spending time with family members can be stressful especially if it’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that larger gatherings have been organised. No wonder we can experience more anxiety around these dates.
We spoke to Daniel, who has recovered from bulimia and is now the Chair of Talk ED. He shares some useful tips on how to deal with difficult situations and typical comments and questions that might come up over the festive period.
Hi Daniel, thank you for sharing your experiences with us today. Many people tell us that they struggle to know how to respond to comments about appearance, or what they are eating, or not eating, during this time. How have you navigated this in the past and since your recovery?
I am always honest with my answer to questions about my appearance. I will say something along the lines of “do you know what, today my appearance isn’t important to me, I’m just focussing on feeling positive and happy in myself.” And then I deflect with a question such as “how are you feeling?” to move the conversation immediately onto feelings rather than looks.
If people begin to comment or ask questions on what I’m eating or not eating, often I’ll say “I know you are asking because you care, but it makes me uncomfortable when you ask questions like that”.
How do you respond to questions or comments about your recovery?
If anyone asks about my recovery I try to be honest with them, but there are times when I don’t feel like talking about it, so I just say “you know, today I’m not really up to talking about that, I’d rather focus on the here and now.”
Do you have any suggestions on how to answer the question “how are you?” if you are not feeling “fine”?
If someone from my safe circle of friends and family asks me how I am doing then I will give them an honest answer. I will happily tell them if I am feeling low, and often it opens a space for them to share and for us to feel less alone in our feelings.
If it is someone outside of my safe circle, it will depend on how I am feeling. If I don’t want to open up, I recognise that and allow myself not to, so I often say, “today I am feeling…” or pull the work card, “well work is…”. More often than not, no matter how I am feeling I will often focus on asking them how they are so it gives me a sense of how open the conversation can go.
How do you manage the increased focus during this time about things such as food, parties/get-togethers, and discussions about outfits, and do you have any tips for anyone who is struggling with this?
I struggle with the Christmas period every year. There is such a huge focus on food, from Christmas parties, to over the top adverts in shops to the new tradition of emotion-stirring Christmas adverts that supermarkets produce with a movie-like budget. Every year I try to prepare and arm myself with the tools I rely on throughout the year and some extra special ones for Christmas. Here are a few:
- I prepare my trusted circle of friends and family for what’s to come so that I know I can talk to them whenever I need them.
- I often take social media holidays so I can prevent comparing myself to others or restrict the food porn content that becomes popular over Christmas.
- I plan plenty of self care time, it may be a walk, a pamper evening, a video game night or I have recently discovered a love for a pedicure.
- I practice saying “no”. Between work, volunteering, family and friends I can easily drain my social battery. When my social battery is low I find myself less able to deal with triggers. So I build confidence in saying “no” before the season starts.
On Christmas Day itself I have found some useful tips:
- I will help out with cooking and food prep so I understand what I am eating and help break down any worries I have about the food.
- On the day, I plan a walk with my dog or a family member to get out of the space and look after myself.
- I focus on positive stress-relievers not negative ones, so for me, I don’t drink alcohol because that can fuel the negative ones. I allow myself a bath, or a lie in to feel my best possible self.
- I am able to talk to family about how I feel, so I often prepare them in advance.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts Daniel, there are some really helpful tips on managing difficult questions and making space to help you cope with what is often an overwhelming time.
However you spend the festive period, we encourage you to take care of yourself as best as possible. That could include having some planned answers for potential comments or questions, or a distraction technique such as going out for some fresh air or taking five minutes for some deep breathing if things feel like they’re becoming overwhelming.
We will be discussing preparing for the festive season at our online peer group sessions between now and Christmas, we hope to see you there.