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5 Secrets to Guide You Through Christmas Dinner With an Eating Disorder


Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

The most important thing to remember when you’re sitting down for a big family meal is that you have no idea how anyone else is feeling about the holidays, about family or about food. We have this false idea that everyone who sits at our table is feeling joy and love and gratitude. The reality is, everyone has their own issues, struggles, memories, hopes and expectations. And you rarely know more than a tiny bit of their inner-life.

When a person with an eating disorder (ED) sits down for a family dinner, regardless of where they are in their illness and/or recovery, there are so many things working against them; fear of food, counting of calories, being faced with food choices that you can usually avoid in daily life, assumptions that you and your plate are being watched by everyone around you, and the incessant inner dialogue of shame and judgment.

Inevitably, there will be diet culture talk at the table, which includes comments such as:

  • “I’ve starved myself all day for this…”
  • “I can’t believe how much food there is.”
  • “I’ll never finish this.”
  • “I’ve been ‘good’ so that I can eat this.”
  • “I’m so full I must have gained 10 pounds.”
  • “I won’t need to eat for a week after eating all this.”
  • “I feel so fat.”
  • “Wow I really pigged out.”
  • “Oh, I shouldn’t have any more, I’m fat enough already.”

When you have an ED, your brain filters out common sense and the intent of other people’s words. All of the above comments get warped into an attack on you. Your ED brain convinces you that if you eat, you are bad and unworthy. The self-loathing throughout the meal can be overwhelming, and you might start to make ED-centered choices such as pushing the food around on the plate, not eating the foods you really want to eat or eating as much as you possibly can with plans to “compensate” later.

Here is a secret (pay very close attention to this): no one at that table is thinking about you while they are eating and talking. Not one person. Each person is having their own holiday thoughts, expectations and memories. Their diet-culture talk isn’t to you or about you. That is theirs. That belongs to them.

Here are five secrets to guide you through the enjoyment of a giant Christmas meal.

  1. If you stick to your meal plan before and after, what you eat at Christmas dinner does not damage your recovery. It is just food.
  2. When Auntie Mildred tells you how many “points” each ingredient is worth, she is worrying about her own body — not yours.
  3. No matter how much you eat at Christmas dinner, or how many desserts you choose to enjoy, stick to your meal plan and eat breakfast the next day. That “large meal” with desserts does not affect your recovery.
  4. There are particular foods on the table that you only eat once or twice a year. This makes people feel like they have to eat and eat until it hurts. Funny thing is, we forget that we can cook any of those foods any time we like. Food is meant to be eaten and enjoyed. Savor the food you are sharing with the people at the table. Enjoy the tastes and the good memories they involve. And remember you could make mashed potatoes any time you like. This isn’t the only time they will ever be available to you. And if you don’t want to eat a large plate with the people at the table, enjoy what you can and plan on eating leftovers another time. It is OK to tell your host that the food was delicious and you just weren’t hungry enough.
  5. The most important secret about making it through Christmas dinner: you are the boss of your body. You can eat or not eat whatever you want to at that dinner. You are allowed to enjoy the meal. You are allowed to not answer any questions and to tune out diet culture talk.

In summary: you are the boss of your body, people are thinking about themselves (not you), you can enjoy the meal and still be in recovery and, above all else, food is fuel and you are worthy and deserve to eat. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and remember to nourish your body, mind and spirit.

Getty image via dragana991