Keeping a healthy relationship with food over the festive season

Author: Helen Gillett

After almost 20 years of bulimia, I’m proud of myself for having become a person who has a pretty balanced relationship with food. I’ve learned to listen to what my body needs, eat pretty healthily, and forgive the occasional aberration. I’m a parent who tries hard not to influence my kids towards shame or guilt about what they eat, but to make food a positive to be enjoyed. But still, I find Christmas hard. I know my trigger foods (carbs!!) and even though it’s a very long time since I last binged and purged, I am wary of that over-full, heavy feeling.

You don’t have to have a disordered relationship with food, to be apprehensive about festive nutrition. I do know a handful of people who embrace the excess, the feeling of indulgence and luxury. I envy them!

So how can we help ourselves stay on an even keel mentally and physically? If you google about it, there are any number of lists of tips which many may find useful. My issue with this is that it actually emphasises a focus on food that whilst well-intentioned, can be counter-productive. If you head into the next 2-3 weeks determined to shop sensibly, eat mindfully, always have breakfast, avoid hangovers, never graze etc etc then the whole thing becomes even more of a preoccupation!

I have two tips: Know your triggers; and Take it a day at a time. That’s it.

Know your triggers

Mine are carbs, especially breads! Also salty snacks with alcohol. I’m ok with sweet stuff, so I don’t need to spend any energy worrying about it (I’ve learned, I used to worry about every single edible thing!)

So I do a couple of things. When I serve myself, or am served food, I go light on the carbs. That’s it, because I know that works for me. 

When I’m socialising with drinks, I have a soft drink first, then I’m not hit with the effect of alcohol distorting my appetite straight away. Oh, and I move the snacks out of reach!

So be honest with yourself about anything that triggers eating you’re not comfortable with. It’s incredibly common and is one of the most impactful things you can really do something about.

Take it a day at a time

This is all about building habits. I know from experience that it’s hard to sustain a healthy relationship with food at the best of times, never mind periods like Christmas when food is fetishised! So my simple tip is to set an intention each day about how you’re going to approach the specifics – drinks with friends;  mince pies in the office kitchen; leftovers in the fridge or whatever else is going on. And do your best with that intention. Then do it again the next day, and the day after that. Some days will feel better than others, but be kind to yourself if you don’t meet your own intention every time. Something is better than nothing, and you can always start again tomorrow. This way you build your habits, and gradually become a person who has a healthy relationship with food. I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear for more on habit-building, it’s incredibly helpful. If you prefer to listen than read, try this TED talk by Judson Brewer

Good luck with the next few weeks, be kind to yourself and recognise each day for the opportunity it presents, not just the challenges. 

If you are worried about your own disordered eating or that of someone you care about, there are other resources that may help:

Overeaters Anonymous

The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast 


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