How to ease food anxiety this festive season if you have an eating disorder

While a time of joy and celebration for some, Christmas can be a scary time for someone who struggles with food anxiety and body issues. Having had battled anorexia for 20 years, nutritionist Lexi Crouch shares her survival guide to the silly season. 

‘Tis the season for social situations, bikini beach days, festive feasting and all those other summer activities which are supposed to be quintessential Aussie fun in the sun.

But this time of year isn’t necessarily fun for everyone.

The holidays can carry all kinds of surprise stresses, whether it’s someone mindlessly going on about COVID kilos or the latest diet they’re on, having to spend more time in your swimmers than actual clothes, or the endless functions that all revolve around food – Christmas can be a scary time for someone who struggles with food anxiety and body issues.

I know, I’ve been there. I suffered from an eating disorder since I was a child and for almost 20 years anorexia was like the Grinch that stole Christmas.

So here are a few tips and tricks to help navigate some festive minefields and hopefully ease some of the pressure associated with the silly season.

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Take a break

Don’t ever be afraid to walk away from any conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable. COVID kilos, new year detoxes, beach bodies, and the latest diet are all subjects that may come up in conversation at some point so just have a few excuses prepared and politely extricate yourself.

If you’re feeling rattled, take a walk and catch your breath, and then re-join the festivities again when you’re feeling better and the conversation has moved on.

Eat regular meals (and don’t restrict)

This isn’t the time to avoid food as it will lead to overeating later on. At times of heightened stress, it can be easy to dismiss our natural body patterns and this includes satiety.

Where possible, stick to your usual breakfast, lunch and dinner routine so when the snacks come out and your internal dialogue is running a riot you know you have your main meals already in place for the day.

This is the best way to make good choices that will nourish you rather than leave you feeling guilty. When you find yourself in a spontaneous situation where it is impossible to plan, stick to what you would usually have at a main meal to reduce any food anxiety and eat within a 1-2 hour window of usual meal times so it doesn’t throw out any normal patterns.

Stick to routines

If going for a walk in the morning, practising Yoga or listening to a podcast makes you happy, don’t skip it. Continuing to do the things that you love will help lower your anxiety and when you take time out for yourself, it will allow you to make better choices throughout the day.

Even the best-laid plans can go awry during the holidays so keeping a routine where possible can allow room for some stress-free spontaneity.

Check in with your mates

It can be normal to think that you are the only one going through some changes or issues, but friends and family are always there to help.

If you are struggling, reach out to someone you love and let them support you. Talking to someone can really help.

A little bit of everything

Lunch buffets and festive feasts are an all-you-can-eat nightmare if you have issues with food. Imagine having a fear of snakes and having to dive into a pit full of snakes day after day? While in the grip of anorexia, I deprived myself of all the Christmas trimmings which always lead to feeling like I had missed out later on. These days, I like to get a little bit of everything to make sure I’m trying new things and not missing out on anything.

The nutritionist in me strives to fill my plate with adequate serves from all the layers of the food pyramid so my body is well-nourished, and I can enjoy some treats too.

Be kind to yourself

For some, the feeling of diving into the ocean is the ultimate summer bliss, while for others, it is like dodging a landmine when you are at war with your body. If this is you, you’re not alone.

I know what it is like to turn up to the beach in 40-degree heat dressed like I’m ready to go skiing and politely decline time and time again when asked if I want to take a dip, even though all I wanted was to feel the cool water on my skin.

Forget bad hair days, bad body days are more prevalent in the summer season. I always found the best way to shake off the negative feelings was to talk about it. Body confidence takes practice and for a lot of us it isn’t a born skill.

When you’re at the beach or by the pool, the main thing to remember is that everybody is different so try to celebrate instead of compare. For those moments when you feel bloated or don’t want to wear a bikini, try wearing something else that will allow you to get into the water rather than missing out.

I remember all too well the days of feeling insecure but I also remember I was my own worst critic. It can help to take a step back and ask, “would I think this about my best friend?”. More than likely the answer is going to be ‘no’, so share the same kindness with yourself that you would share with a friend.

Find food-free alternatives

The festive season is meant to be about spending time with loved ones but so much of it is centred on food. While food does bring people together, if you struggle with food issues, the worry can be so all-consuming that you end up feeling completely disconnected.

If food causes issues for you, how about coming together over a holiday movie, going for a walk or even going to a yoga class instead.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the food aspect of the season that we forget how it might be affecting some people, especially anyone who is struggling with a food issue.

So get creative this Christmas and find fun, new food-free ways to celebrate and connect.

If you need support or somebody to talk to, please contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.

Lexi Crouch is a registered yoga teacher, nutritionist (Bachelor of Health Science – Dietetics & Nutrition at Endeavour College of Natural Health), motivational speaker and advocate for Eating Disorders Queensland and the Butterfly Foundation. You can follow her on Instagram.