Christmas is a magical time. There are occasions to look forward to, people to see and things to celebrate.

But for anyone struggling with food and body image issues, Christmas can mean panic, fear and overwhelm. There’s food everywhere, there are family members that might make triggering comments and there’s generally lots of stress involved.

If you are dreading the holidays because you will be confronted and triggered in ways that you are afraid of, it’s really helpful to prepare yourself for it in the lead up. I used to be that person that was scared sh*tless of the Christmas holidays because I knew I wouldn’t handle it well, but I’ve come a long way since then. Here are some things that worked for me, and I hope they will give you comfort too.

Get support

Think about who your support person is ahead of time. Who can you call when sh**t hits the fan and you need to rant? I call this the “safe purge”; letting your emotions out in a safe way to someone who’s there for you rather than numbing your feelings through food, restriction or self-hate.

Know that you can eat whatever you like

Try not to put any restrictions on yourself; instead, know that you can eat whatever you want. By doing this, you are disarming your internal battle and no longer giving food all the power. I know this might seem scary at first, but it can really take the pressure away.

Avoid too much alcohol

Binge drinking is a prelude to binge eating. It’s a slippery slope, so my suggestion is to keep the alcohol to a minimum.

You don’t have to eat every festive dish in order to enjoy the holidays 

Have the mentality that this is not the last time you will ever eat certain foods. By doing so, you stop the mentality of “now or never” which is often followed by binge eating everything in the buffet out of fear of missing out.

Don’t use the impending New Year as an excuse to binge

This is a big one. Know that every day counts and that every day and every moment is a new opportunity. When you wake up each morning, tell yourself, “today I will do my best to move further towards a life of health and wellness”.

Accept that being with family can be tough 

For so many of us, our families are where our disordered eating started. When you get home you suddenly feel like that 15-year old girl again who was always dieting and wanted to lose weight. Be prepared for that. Know that it’s going to happen, and when it does, try to pull yourself away from the situation and watch your instincts with curiosity rather than guilt and shame. Instead of ignoring or numbing them, try to sit with any feelings that come up and let them pass through you.

Prepare a list of potential triggers

Whilst you can’t always control what triggers you (especially in family situations), you can anticipate it and prepare to react differently from in the past. It’s like knowing a movie line before it happens. When it does happen, you have anticipated it and are mentally prepared for it. Take a couple of minutes now to journal about the things that might trigger you, and think about how you can better deal with the situation when it arises.

Have an SOS tool kit handy 

Think about how you are going to soothe yourself when you are stressed, upset, angry, hurt or frustrated. My suggest is to create a “SOS-self care tool kit” of things that you know make you feel like yourself again.

  • Go for a walk or light jog around the block
  • Meditate
  • Journal – let all your emotions out on paper
  • Take a couple of deep breaths
  • Have an epsom salt bath

And always remember…

If you binged or feel guilty about what you ate the day before, wake up and forgive yourself. One day doesn’t ruin everything and doesn’t make you a bad person or anything less than who you are. Ask yourself what is going to make you feel like you again, do that thing and then move forward.