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  • Dr. Jenna Daku

8 Ways to Manage Disordered Eating During the Festive Season

This past week, I posted a series on Instagram on coping with disordered eating during the Festive Season, and I thought it would be helpful to break it down in to a blog post so you've got everything you need in one go. Even if you don't celebrate during the Festive Season, December and January can be a difficult time due to it being diet-culture's favourite time of year.

1. Without judgement or catastrophizing, prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

The Festive Season can be overwhelming, especially if you're struggling with disordered eating. Food and social events can be particularly stressful. So as a starting point I'd encourage you to create a list of the things you might find difficult *and* a list of everything that you would like to enjoy. This will allow you to ask yourself the question: "What would I like to focus on?"

Reflect on the possible challenges that you might face throughout the next couple of months - without getting too swept up in the 'worst case scenarios'. This is helpful in terms of building a self-care plan. If you do this, be sure to also balance it out by reflecting on the potential positives that might emerge to avoid getting stuck in catastrophizing.

By reflecting on what you would *like* to enjoy about a particular situation, you can tease out your values and try to align your behaviour and thoughts accordingly. For example, you might want to be present in order to connect with your friends. From there you get to decide what that might look like for you and what you can do to increase the likelihood of staying present to connect with them.

Stressful life situations are unavoidable, but it can help to focus on the things that you can control: Your attitude and how you respond to that stress.

2. Create a buddy support system.

Enlist one or two people that you trust and create a buddy system. Make a pact that you will call or message each other for support and positive distraction if you feel overwhelmed.

You don't have to do this alone.

Requesting support from people that you trust is a huge part of breaking down disordered eating - which thrives off of shame and isolation. Even making a pact to call to vent to a friend when you feel overwhelmed can be cathartic and self-caring.

3. Create a self-care list and practice it before, during, and after a potentially stressful event.

Planning self-care is crucial when we are going in to a stressful time. When our brains and bodies are flooded with cortisol - courtesy of stress - it's difficult to access higher level thinking and remember to do your grounding or self-care techniques.

Self-care isn't just booking yourself a massage or getting a pedi. Sure those things are nice, but they're also really privileged. There's so many other things you can do, some of which you might already be doing in which case all you need to do is change your narrative around them.

You can't change the stressful situation or prevent it from happening, but you can change how you respond to yourself when you are faced with stress by doing things like:

- Make yourself a cup of tea

- Say "No"

- Draw / paint / write

- Call a friend

- Meditate

- Do some gentle stretching

- Listen to your favourite song

- Watch silly animal videos

- Cuddle a pet

- Ask for a hug

- Practice a breathing technique

- Repeat coping statements

- Moisturise your skin

- Go to bed early

- Make sure you're drinking enough water

- Eat regularly

The list goes on and on. Just be sure to incorporate self-care activities that engage your body, mind and leave you feeling more socially connected.

4. Write down and repeat self-soothing coping statements

Fun fact: Did you know our brains are plastic?

Neuroplasticity means that the more you use a set of connections in your brain, the more you're likely to use that connection in the future. Similarly, when we stop using a particular neural pathway as much those connections slowly 'die'.

This means that through the practice and repetition of new, liner, more grounded thinking patterns can replace the critical disordered eating thoughts. The key here is practice, practice, practice, and patience.

Practising affirming, self-soothing, and kind coping statements is a great way to build and reinforce new pathways in your brain. And the more you do it, the easier it will get.

For example:

"It's ok to feel anxious around food and my family, it doesn't mean I'm a bad person"

"There's no such thing as naughty food"

"What I eat doesn't reflect my value as a human being"

What would you add to your list of coping statements?

5. Consider what kind of boundaries you can put in place to make yourself feel more comfortable.

Boundaries are crucial to healthy relationships - including the relationship you have with your body.

When you struggle with disordered eating, you are ignoring your body's boundaries on a daily basis by neglecting your hunger and fullness cues, exercising when you're exhausted or injured, or putting potentially harmful weight loss products in to your body.

The funny thing about disordered eating is that whatever is happening in your relationship with your body and food, often gets mirrored in other relationships. So put simply, when you ignore your body's boundaries, chances are you're also ignoring the boundaries required for you to have healthy and fulfilling social relationships.

So how do you know if you struggle with boundaries? Try asking yourself these Q's:

1. Do I often say 'yes' when I really want to say 'no'?

2. Do I often find myself feeling resentful in my relationships with others because I feel that I give more than I get?

3. Am I afraid of speaking my mind because I am anxious about how other people will think of me or react to me?

If you answered 'yes' to these questions, chances are you might need some extra support understanding your boundaries and what underlies your anxiety around them - in which case I'd encourage you to seek therapeutic support.

If you're just looking for some practical advice on how to put boundaries in regarding diet-chat, check out my podcast interview with Laura Thomas: Episode 96 of "Don't Salt My Game".

6. Respond to your emotional reactions without judgement and with as much kindness as you can.

Have you ever had that feeling bubble up from deep inside of you...the one that feels familiar yet foreign at the same time, and leaves you saying things and behaving in ways that remind you of when you were a child or a teenager?

Yeah, that's normal. And it happens to the vast majority of us when we are in the presence of our family - even as adults.

In psychotherapy we work with the different parts of self - of which we have many. We have parts of us that are playful, others are serious, and some are sad and frightened. Part of healing and developing an integrated sense of self invoices coming to terms with, and giving space to, all of our different parts.

So what do you do when you notice your inner child or teenager emerges? Our response is typically to shame and berate ourselves for having such a 'negative' response to our family so it's important to step back from self-criticism and embrace curiosity. You can do this by asking yourself these questions:

- How old do I feel right now? Or, how old did I feel when I reacted that way/

- Based on that answer, you can then ask yourself: what might a child or teenager that age need?

- How can I give inner child / teenager what they need in this moment?

It sounds woo, but this is powerful work. To paraphrase Philippa Perry: The parts of us that scream the loudest are just trying to be heard.

Hint: Usually our parts are just trying to protect us or help us meet our needs - even if it comes out in destructive ways.

Start by giving yourself kindness, and from there you can decide how and if you'd like to respond to the other person differently by saying: "Can we try that again?" or "I think what I really wanted to say was...".

7. Remind yourself that there's no such thing as 'naughty' food.

Apart from any medical conditions, whatever you eat today isn't going to impact the rest of your life. And it certainly doesn't determine your worth or worthiness as a human being.

Food is a social connector, and we are literally biologically programmed to derive pleasure through eating, and yet we live in a culture that teaches us to fear food and to feel guilty when we experience pleasure through it.

Leading in to whatever food festivities await you in the next month or two, I invite you to create a list of food coping statements. These are phrases you can repeat to yourself before, during, and after meals to try and sooth yourself from food anxiety.

" There's no such thing as naughty food"

"What I eat or don't eat has no impact on my value as a human"

"I am allowed to experience pleasure through food"

What other statements could you add to that list?

8. Don't beat yourself up if you use disordered eating behaviours to cope.

If you use disordered eating to cope, it doesn't mean that you're going backwards. Getting angry with yourself up will only fuel shame, which is the bff of disordered eating. Instead of beating yourself up, try being curious instead and asking yourself:

- Was I trying to push down or numb out emotions through food or exercise?

- What other coping tools are available to me the next time I feel the urge to use food or exercise to cope?

- How can I learn from this experience - especially with regards to what I might need in situations like this?

Even if you don't have the answers, practice asking yourself these questions - and questions like them - frequently. With practice and patience you'd be surprised what comes up.

If you're looking for additional support, be sure to check out our online shop. We've got our Festive Self-Care Kit available to download for just £15 with the code HOHONO, which has over 2 hours of video resources, meditations, and helpful tips. We will also be releasing more resources soon x

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