I am so excited for Christmas! However, amongst the fun-filled Christmassy moments, I know how hard this time can be for people. My biggest anxiety around Christmas has always been food and exercise. The exercise routine goes out of the window, whether that's school or sports clubs going on a break, being away from your usual gym as you go and stay with family, or exercise classes pausing over the holiday period. The food routine doesn't necessarily change but many of us do have more meals with family and friends, more occasions to go out and enjoy different foods and drinks, and to top that off, we're bombarded with the message that we're all eating to excess and need to be on heightened alert for over-indulgence and the dreaded post-Christmas weight gain. It can be an overwhelming time, especially for anyone with difficulties around food, eating or exercise.
Food is high on the list of the essential elements of Christmas. It's usually over food that we come together and share one another's company (the crucial element being the company not the food btw). If you fear these gatherings due to the food, firstly please know that you're not alone! However it's important to do everything we can to stop letting our heads get in the way of enjoying these precious moments with family and friends. Here are my tips (tried and tested) which should help you to reduce and mitigate any anxiety around food and exercise throughout this month! Even if the festive period doesn't affect you in any way, please have a read as it's always good to be aware of how people around you might need support.
1. Break it down. In my mind, Christmas is a looming and vague event that lasts for weeks and throws routine out of the window. This makes everything more daunting! In reality, when you break it down, write out the dates and your plans, it's so much easier to get a bigger picture and identify events or days in particular that are really where your anxiety is focused. Try not to allow yourself to be stressed about 'Christmas' in general as you will waste so much time worrying about nothing!
2. Make a plan. If you've identified the particular events or days you're anxious about in relation to food or exercise, you can start thinking about creating a plan to make those times less daunting. With a bit of forward planning you could schedule in a walk or jog with a friend or family member during the day, or a plan to spend time with a friend before or after the event (if food related) to keep you distracted and occupied. The main thing is to try and be proactive rather than reactive. It's not a question of mitigating the food with exercise, but for many people with eating disorders or anxieties around food and exercise, it's important to know that a plan is in place to avoid further stress.
3. Tell a trusted friend/family member. Don't try and do this all on your own! Tell a friend or family member (even better if you're with them at Christmas) that you're finding things hard with food/exercise and that you'd appreciate it if they could help. I found that people around me always wanted to help but when they asked me whether there was anything they could do, I found it hard to think of anything. Here's a list of tangible things that people could do to support:
Being on alert if other friends or family members comment on food, exercise, etc., or talk about diets/difficult subjects. They can be in charge of changing the topic and saving you from awkward or tricky conversations!
Help with food planning and bringing normality/rationality to the situation. A problem shared is a problem halved!
Sitting next to you at a meal and sneakily help finish bits on your plate if you're worried about offending a host by leaving food.
Having a private word with everyone (either with you present or not) to explain the situation and ask everyone to be empathetic and sensitive.
Hold you accountable for eating agreed amounts or exercising in moderation as sometimes it's helpful to know that you're not going to get away with throwing your routine out the window!
Simply offering a smile or nod of reassurance which will give you a reminder that you're not struggling in silence.
4. Day/week gym passes. These were a fantastic discovery and made lots of holidays much more enjoyable and feel more manageable. The gym has always been a happy place for me and was a key part of feeling like I was still in control of my routine. Being away from the gym over Christmas often really added to my anxiety about everything so finding a way of keeping this important aspect of my routine in place was fab! Even though you're in a different location or environment, don't feel as though you have to abandon all the things that keep you healthy and happy. That being said, you don't have to exercise! If you need a rest, that's more than okay too. Be intuitive and tune in to what would serve you and your body best.
5. Do not let diet culture into your New Years Resolution. Every year for YEARS, my New Years resolution was simply 'to lose weight'. So sad! But so common! First of all, we know that goals should be SMART (if there's anything to take away from GCSE science it was the principle of SMART experiments and goals, and also chlorophyll - that seemed very important at the time too). But aside from the fact that 'to lose weight' is not a SMART goal, it was never a fulfilling, interesting, meaningful or substantial goal for me. Take time over the Christmas period to do some self-reflection and introspection. What would you like to achieve over the next year? What habits might you like to build into your routine? My challenge for you is to come up with a resolution that will add fulfilment to your life, and that has nothing to do with food or exercise. Or don't do a New Years' resolution at all. That's also completely fine.
6. Lean on science, physiology and nutritional facts. There are some topics that everyone thinks they are an expert on. Many people (*cough* men *cough* - not a covid cough btw), for example, have a strong opinion on football playing and tactics, having last played a game of football aged 14 in the school D team. People who don't have children are often rapid to offer advice to parents on how to raise children properly. And almost everyone has an opinion on dieting, food and exercise. Just remember that although family member 'X' might say that any food you eat after 8pm will be stored as fat, or friend 'Y' says that white carbohydrates are literally worse for your health than smoking 70 cigarettes a day, you do not need to listen to them or bother to enter into the conversation. If something sounds too good to be true or sounds
Right, that's enough from me. There's already enough noise surrounding this topic at Christmas and my intention was to plough straight through the middle rather than contribute to the bombardment of confusing diet messages... Hopefully I've managed to avoid that! And despite Covid adding more anxiety and fear to Christmas than seems fair for the second year in a row, I hope you have a lovely Christmas if you celebrate it.
I offer mentoring and coaching to individuals in recovery from eating disorders who are looking to start incorporating exercise into their routine. If you think I might be able to help you or a friend, relative or colleague, please get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org.