With Christmas and the new year vastly approaching most people are in the mood to celebrate and enjoy the festivities. Christmas is a time where families and friends come together to enjoy each other’s company and to celebrate the festivities with a Christmas meal. Christmas is also a time where escaping from food whether it be from advertising, Christmas parties or the upcoming Christmas dinner is virtually impossible and for people with eating difficulties this can be an especially troubling and anxiety provoking time. For those caring for a loved one this can also increase their anxiety on how to make this an enjoyable time for everyone. We at Acacia Dreams have already put together a blog post on ideas on how to make Christmas a manageable time for those with eating difficulties but we also wanted to make a blog post for those supporting people through this festive time.
People with eating difficulties often find the festive season extremely difficult because of the expectations put upon them to enjoy, indulge and to eat what everyone else is eating. Some people may see Christmas day as THE day to indulge and “what difference can one day make?” Quite simply put the pressure of one day can make a big difference. Just like any illness, eating difficulties can’t be put aside for one day. This increase in expectations and the idea that this time is a time to indulge can even worsen eating difficulties in whatever manner that may come. Many may try to restrict as much as possible in the fear they are giving in to this indulgent time whilst others may struggle by eating over their comfortable limit and later punishing themselves. This is by no means a full representation of behaviours people may have during this time as it may be a combination of both or others not talked about here.
So, what can you do to help someone at Christmas? Here’s a list of things we’ve put together that may help:
Understand that this is not an easy time for your loved one.
Focus on other things other than food
Try as much as possible to not make the main focus food during the Christmas time. It’s very easy for this to be the case. However, if you make Christmas about the coming together of family and enjoying the time away from work etc. this could make a huge difference. People of different backgrounds or even different families have different traditions around Christmas time. If the focus isn’t on food maybe it can be about playing games, taking a walk with the dogs, exchanging gifts, watching a TV series you’ve been dying to watch together or even just going on an adventure and seeing where you end up.
Keep the expectation of your loved one the same as any other day.
If your loved one has meal plan from a dietitian, stick to it! Some of those that have been to a dietician have a carefully regulated diet that is best for your loved one and one day of changing it can cause an upheaval to this plan. Changing the plan may set people back and cause unnecessary panic for your loved one and to you. On the flip side of this, allowing behaviours that are harmful for your loved one on this day are also not advisable; back to the “what difference can one day make?” scenario. If they want to try and have something a bit different on top of their meal plan or something they wouldn’t usually have support them and try not to make a big deal out of it.
Communication is key
Whilst communication may be difficult with your loved one, being honest with each other about how you are all feeling at this time can also make a big difference. By stating that the expectations are the same and that there is no additional pressure at this time can make a huge difference to your loved one. If your loved one doesn’t have a set meal plan this is also a time to discuss what your loved one is comfortable eating or if your loved one is able to eat as a family with you etc. This is also an opportunity to ask what has helped your loved one in the past and what your loved one has particularly struggled with. A better understanding can help you to navigate the struggles with your loved one. As with any other day it can be difficult seeing your loved one struggle but if there are major concerns than continue talking with physicians, dieticians, therapists etc.
Make some allowances
Whilst we’ve made the point of focusing on other things, many can find the Christmas time overwhelming. This may take many forms, whether it be from too many sensory inputs or from seeing people they haven’t seen for a while or just simply the exhaustion from the heightened expectations. Allowing for time away can make a huge difference. By giving people the space they need to process and decrease their anxiety, they may be able to spend more time with you and others than they were if taking time away is seen as shameful. Communicate with your loved one that it is okay to take time out and that they are welcome back whenever they feel able.
Make a plan together
Following on from the above points making a plan with your loved one, even if it’s a simple plan, can help out tremendously. Predictability is something that most of us need in our day to day lives and when that is no longer the case many of us feel lost. This is something that can benefit everyone!
Understand things may not go smoothly
Whilst these are all things that may help your loved one, they are still struggling. Things may not go smoothly, there may be some upset but your understanding and compassion during this time will have a better impact on them than you may think.
The New Year Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions and diets can also be a tricky talking point for those currently struggling. At this time many people start thinking about the repercussions of Christmas and the whole “New Year, New You” philosophy. This can be extremely unhelpful for people struggling, instead try to make the focus about things other than weights and diets.
Remember, whilst you’re helping your loved one, remember that you also need to look after yourself too. After all, Christmas is a time for love and understanding. Wishing you a lovely Christmas and New Year from us at Acacia Dreams.