Coping with the post Christmas and New Year period can be tough. In the past, I have really struggled during this time. For me, there was always an overwhelming sense of deflation and sadness. Everything is built up so much and, then all of a sudden, it is all over. From an eating disorder perspective, I also really used to struggle during this post Christmas and New Year period.
Fear of weight gain was always an issue around this time. I would be absolutely terrified of how much weight I would have gained over the festive period. If I gained weight, I would curse myself for allowing myself to eat extra Brussel sprouts. How could I have been so greedy!! This happened repeatedly for several years during the early stages of my anorexia recovery. The terror of Christmas weight gain and guilt over eating extra, even if it was only Brussel sprouts, was totally overwhelming.
The Post Christmas and New Year Period
To deal with the stress and anxiety, I would try and compensate in the post Christmas and New Year period. I would find myself engaging in eating disorder behaviours to try and cope with my weight (even if I hadn’t gained any, the fear that I had was strong enough), my worsened body image, the fact that I had eaten and relaxed more, and exercised less over Christmas. I was driven by anorexic fear.
Thankfully, I am pleased to say that I don’t do this anymore, and haven’t done so for a couple of years – I don’t even want to do this anymore. I reached the point in my anorexia recovery a few years ago when I just knew that this wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I had to tackle this post Christmas and New Year period that was dominated by my Eating Disorder compensatory behaviours.
It was difficult, but I was trying to work on sitting with the anxiety, rather than reacting to it. My therapist taught me that anxiety doesn’t increase forever. It does settle down on it’s own. But if I engage in an eating disorder behaviour to relieve my stress every time that I feel anxious and worried about my weight, then it reinforces to my brain that I need to do that behaviour in order to relieve my anxiety. It basically just reinforces the eating disorder.
So I had to learn to sit with anxiety and let it settle down on it’s own. Very tough. But it is doable. Making myself do this after Christmas and New year, when I was desperate to restrict and compensate, was essential for me breaking that compensatory behaviour cycle. Yes, it meant that for a few Christmases I felt pretty rubbish. But it now means that I don’t have that crippling fear and anxiety, and compulsion to engage in compensatory behaviours.
So I thought I would share a few things that helped me with this.
1. Is this what I want from Christmas for the rest of my life?
When I was really struggling with the urge to compensate in the post Christmas and New Year period, I would think to myself that this is not what Christmas should be like. I hated the fact that I would be wracked with guilt and fear for having eaten extra food, when everyone else was able to just relax and enjoy the occasion. I hated it. So much.
So when I decided to push my anorexia recovery further and stop engaging in the Eating Disorder compensation’s after Christmas and New year, I would remind myself of this. I would remind myself that I don’t want Christmas to be miserable and stressful for the rest of my life. I don’t want to feel guilty for eating a bit extra. So I sat with the anxiety. And now, regardless of what I have eaten yesterday, or the day before, or over Christmas, it has no impact on what I eat today, or the next day, or the next week.
2. The trap of Eating Disorder restrictions
One of the big problems that I found with engaging in eating disorder compensation behaviours, particularly restriction, was that it then made it so much harder to go back to not restricting. Yes, the compensation might relieve some stress temporarily in the post Christmas and New Year period. But then what? I’d either have to stop doing the compensatory ED behaviours, or I would carry on with them, they would get worse and worse, and I’d end up being ruled by anorexia again.
So in order to override my ED compensatory behaviours to restrict after Christmas and New Year, I would ask myself where will this end up. I knew the trap of eating disorder restrictions. I knew that every previous year when I had restricted after Christmas, I then had to put everything back in and found it really difficult. You end up stuck in this cycle and I hated it. I didn’t want to be in this cycle, and I also didn’t want to let the restriction run out of control. So the only option was to not engage in the behaviours in the first place, so that I didn’t end up in the trap of ED restrictions.
3. It’s okay to eat more
This did take a while for me to accept. I had followed such a strict regimental diet for so long. I never allowed myself to eat more, and the thought of eating more AND not compensating afterwards was unimaginable. But actually, it is totally okay to eat more sometimes. Whether it’s Christmas, a birthday, a special occasion, or just because you want to, our bodies are allowed to eat more. We are not mathematical equations that need balancing out. I continued to allow myself to eat more, not just at Christmas, and I sat with anxiety. Now, I don’t feel the need to compensate if I believe I have eaten more than ‘normal.’ Because it is totally okay to eat different amounts on different days. You wouldn’t tell your friends or family that they had to eat the exact same amount of food every day. So you don’t have to either.
4. Do I want to compensate for the rest of my life?
Plain and simple, I would ask myself this question. Do I want to spend the rest of my life having to engage in Eating Disorder compensation behaviours every time I eat more, or exercise less? The answer was always no. I hated it. I hated that I was locked up in this compensation prison cell. But the only way to get free from it was to break the habit of doing it.
5. What do other people do?
I would think about my friends, family, people who I admired and looked up to, and ask myself what they did. They didn’t restrict or exercise every time they felt they ate too much. So why do I have to? I would ask myself a hypothetical question. If they had told me that they felt they needed to restrict their food because they had eaten more over Christmas, I would tell them not to be silly and of course they didn’t need to compensate. So if that is what I would say to them, then the same logic applies to me as well.
A reminder that you don’t need to compensate after Christmas and New Year
They are the few key things that helped me to break that need to compensate and restrict in the post Christmas and New Year period. It really was a case of sitting with the anxiety and uncomfortable feelings, and reminding myself of these key points. Crucially, that anxiety doesn’t increase forever and it will settle down of its own accord.
It is a difficult period to go through, but it is so worth it. Recovery from an eating disorder is tough, but it brings with it so much more freedom and happiness.
I hope this blog has helped. I would love to hear if there are any things that you do to help stop yourself engaging in Eating Disorder behaviours after Christmas and New Year.
Remember, you do not need to restrict after Christmas and New Year. Compensations keep you locked in the eating disorder prison. Slowly but surely, you can start unlocking your way out.