Kintsugi Hope
Hope Virgo, Author and Mental Health Campaigner

With over a million people living with an eating disorder in the UK, and countless more undiagnosed or in recovery, it no surprise that so many people struggle through Christmas. From the fixation on food, calories, and over-eating, to marking the occasion with family, it can feel like a minefield for so many. Learning to navigate a season faced with uncertainty and fear.

Looking back, I had the childhood Christmas Day excitement, the inevitable anticipation as we wait to see what Santa brings, to the presents under the tree, and then the lazing around for the afternoon. And I was okay with it, all up until I turned 13. That was when I met a voice in my head. The Anorexia which tormented me about the day, causing me pain and anxiety when it came to managing food. A real fear of the exact number of calories, of sitting around all day. I was terrified and it wasn’t even just the day that impacted me. The months running up to Christmas and the days after I would lie awake in bed ruminating over the calories.

My story of Christmas is not unique to me but in fact a reality for so many. The scary reality is, firstly the number of people struggling this Christmas, but secondly the increased number now struggling with an eating disorder due to Covid-19.

As you read this I don’t know what your story is, how your year has been or where you feel you are at in your own journey, but I wanted to offer some practical things and changes you could make to Christmas time slightly easier for you.

And yes, if you’ve struggled with an eating disorder before, you might not be fully recovered but this doesn’t mean you cannot move to a space where Christmas can at least be pleasant for you. Perhaps you know someone who struggles with Christmas, or may struggle with an eating disorder — maybe there are some things you could do to help them?

Hope’s Top Tips for Those struggling:

Find your support system
If possible, try to be open and honest about your concerns with at least one person, preferably someone who will be with you on Christmas day. That way, if you are really struggling, you can reach out for some moral support, and they can look out for you. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved. This year for me, my older sister and partner are not there on Christmas Day so I need to rethink this a bit. This involves having a check in scheduled, so that I can reach out to them if I am finding things slightly harder.

Plan ahead
Being in control of your plans can really reduce stress. For example, the first Christmas after I relapsed, I knew I would struggle so I planned to host Christmas dinner. That way I was hands on with the food and felt proud that I’d managed to cook and eat Christmas dinner with my whole family. This might mean taking some to work out what Christmas looks like for you. You could contribute your favourite element to the dinner or bring a drink you are likely to enjoy?

Be BOLD and own the day

Eating disorders wants to isolate us, for us to miss out on the fun, speak false assurance. I have felt myself at times slipping in to this false sense of security, and allowing the eating disorder to dictate my day, maybe becoming a bit of a victim…“I am going to spend Christmas alone because of my anorexia”; and yes this mind set isn’t always a choice but what I have learnt to do is to work out how much I can challenge that thinking. Do I need to listen to these voices? Within this, it goes back to the planning and working out what Christmas Day might look like where I can be with people I want to be, and more importantly enjoy it.

Distract yourself
Christmas can be focussed on eating, drinking and more eating so perhaps Instead of focussing on the food, why not find some other festive activities that you can do with friends and family that can get you in the Christmas spirit? Board games, ice skating, catching up on Christmas TV or a trip to the cinema or panto are all great ways to enjoy the season without worrying about food. Also make sure you have those distractions on the day; this might even be something like becoming “chief washer upper” so you have a task to focus on for a while. (Put some Christmas music on and make it fun!)

Take some time for yourself
If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time out to focus on yourself. Whether it’s painting your nails, writing in your diary or reading a book, watching a Christmas movie, do something that makes you feel good.

I know that Christmas Day can feel hard but allow yourself to feel those things. Remember that your wellbeing is a priority, so if that means going upstairs for some alone time or airing what you are feeling allow yourself space to do that. Within all this remembering that you can do this, that whilst it might feel impossible at times, I am evidence that there can be a way to enjoy Christmas again, if you’ve previously struggled.

For more advice on Eating Disorders Visit:

B.E.A.T www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Mind www.mind.org.uk

Papyrus www.papyrus-uk.org

Orri www.orri-uk.com

Hope Virgo — www.hopevirgo.com