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'Have a support person.' How to deal with Christmas when you're recovering from an eating disorder.

This post deals with eating disorders, and could be triggering for some readers.

Choosing to recover from an eating disorder is a lifelong commitment. 

I consider myself to be recovered; I have been for a few years now, but that doesn’t mean I never hear the voice of my eating disorder in my ear, or that I never have the occasional relapse. 

For me, my eating disorder was very much about restriction, calorie counting and striving to lose as much weight as I could. 

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It got to the point where I no longer needed calorie tracking apps and kitchen scales because I just knew. 

I could look at a piece of food and know the approximate weight and calorie content and I would keep a running tab in my brain for the day. 

I sought help and had a very successful course of therapy, and now I have strategies in place to assist my recovery, but it’s a challenge to unlearn the behaviours that assisted my disordered eating, and now it’s more about recognising them when they rear their ugly heads. 

And when that happens, I acknowledge their presence and try to shut it down as soon as I can. 

Holidays, especially Christmas, can be especially difficult for someone who is currently suffering from an eating disorder, going through recovery and even for those who are recovered. 

When I think about Christmas, the strong association with food is not one that is unique to me.

It’s pretty typical to gather with loved ones around a ham, a pavlova, some prawns, cherries, crispy potatoes and Mum’s famous Christmas pudding, and at this stage in my recovery, the spread is something I look forward to every year, because the sheer joy that comes with food freedom after years of fear is a particular relief that’s simply too enormous to put into words. 

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But I know that this year there will be people everywhere that are dreading Christmas Day. Not because they’re a grinch, not because they don’t want to see their family. Sometimes it’s just hard to be merry and bright when you’re recovering.

I’m not a psychologist, or at all qualified to give specific advice to anyone - but I’ve put together some general anecdotal advice for those in recovery, and for those who want to make their Christmas table an accepting and joyful one. 

If you’re someone in recovery and you’re starting to feel anxious about the big day, it’s about arming yourself with strategies that work best for you. 


Perhaps it’s making sure you still eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on Christmas day to maintain a balanced day, rather than fasting until the main event.

Perhaps it’s about having a quiet place you can go if you just need a moment, and bringing some headphones to listen to some music, or do a five-minute meditation. 

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Consider having an allocated friend or family member next to you at the table who knows what you’re going through to fend off any comments about what’s on your plate.

For me, that’s my sister, and we both take turns changing the subject whenever it gets uncomfortable.

Put things on your plate that you actually want to eat. I know this is hard, but if the restriction-binge cycle is something that you struggle with, you won’t be immune to it just because it’s Christmas. 

If all you want is a piece of pavlova and instead you deny yourself, it’s not uncommon that you’ll think about that pavlova every waking moment of Christmas day until 10pm and then binge on the leftover pavlova and everything else in sight. 

Instead, cut yourself a piece, put in on your plate and enjoy it. And then give yourself credit for eating intuitively and honouring your appetite.

Finally, remind yourself that your body is exactly as it’s meant to be, and nothing that you do in one single day will change it. 

When it comes to creating a supportive environment, it’s important to note that there is a whole spectrum of eating disorders, and how it presents physically and behaviourally will be completely different for everyone.

Mine flew under the radar almost entirely for years because I never looked ‘dangerously thin’, which is what most people think of when you say the words ‘eating disorder. 

It’s simply not true. I also didn’t tell my close or extended family, a couple of friends knew, but for the most part I was suffering in silence and at times being applauded for my weight loss. 

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In general, here are some behaviours to avoid.

Don’t comment on someone’s plate. Things like “wow, that’s a lot!” or “put a bit more on there, come on, just have some potatoes!” are comments that are almost always said with absolutely no bad intentions, but it’s just better to avoid them. 

It means that they’re not left hyper fixating about what everyone is thinking about how much food they’re eating. Trust that they know what’s right for them and their body. 

When it comes to getting seconds, “didn’t you just eat?” or “save some for the rest of us”, are comments that introduce elements of shame, even when said in jest. And it’s important to not associate shame with eating.

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Christmas can bring together friends and family you might not see very often, and I would always feel anxiety in the lead up about what people were going to think, and say about my body.

Sadly, our society values ‘thinness’, weight loss is seen as an accomplishment, weight gain is seen as a failure or lack of self control, and when someone says ‘wow you’ve lost weight!’ you’re meant to receive that as a compliment. 

I’ve experienced both sides of this. 

I’ve had comments about how I shouldn’t worry because ‘I’ll get there’....’there’ being the mythical state of ultimate thinness that would make all my worries disappear, and I’ve also been applauded for looking ‘healthy’ when I lost a bunch of weight. But what they didn’t know is that I’d never had a worse relationship with food, or myself, and those compliments just fuelled me to try to lose even more weight. 

So in general, it’s best to not comment about bodies at all. Someone’s body is the least interesting thing about them, and quite simply, if that’s all we can think to talk about at the dinner table then it’s time to whip out Cards Against Humanity.

Try to avoid diet culture language like ‘oh, this is so naughty’ when going for a bite of pudding, or comments like ‘I’ll have to go for a run tomorrow’. 

Just eat the pudding, it’s bloody delicious and Mum didn't spend hours making it so that we could guess how many calories are in it. 

Overall, it’s just about being sensitive to other people’s experiences and emotions, because when you love someone, their comfort and their feeling of acceptance should be important to you. 

Especially in a year that has been so difficult, if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room as your family this Christmas, make sure that you seize that opportunity, cheers each other for making it here, and have it be a celebration of how much you value each other’s company, not each other’s bodies. 

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected] 

You can also visit their website, here.

Feature Image: Supplied.