The holidays season, as festive and fun it can be, it can also be a difficult and tricky time for a lot of people who struggle with binge eating. One of the difficulties is that there is lots of food which can be triggering to thoughts and feelings of shame, feeling fat, and focusing on body weight. People tend to go home to their families or visiting relatives for long periods of time, which means a change in the eating routine and usually having to eat with lots of people. So what can we do to make this festive period fun for us? Managing the festive meals: There are a few practical tips you can follow before, during, and after meals to manage them better. Before the meal:
- Plan as much as you can in advance – what you are going to eat, how much you are going to eat
- Have a Plan B! Problem-solve around what you will do if you don’t stick to the plan – think of strategies that work (e.g. distraction by going for a short walk, engaging in a social conversation, watching a movie)
- Don’t reduce your intake the day before or at breakfast on the day! This will make it more likely for you to want to binge after the meal.
- Practice how you will say no if someone offers you extra food
- Think about a rewarding activity or a thing you’d like to have and can afford that you can get to reward yourself for getting through this challenging time!
- Enlist the help of a trusted person (ideally in the room, if not on the phone) – see below for tips for family and friends
During the meal:
- Be strategic with how you fill your plate – divide it into quarters, or fifths, or sixths and fill each area with something from all the different dishes so you can try everything on the table.
- If you think it might be easier for you, get your trusted person to fill up your plate for you, if they are in the room.
- Concentrate on what you are eating as much as possible – eat mindfully. Use the conversation to do so.
- Take your time with the food – count to 5 with each bite. Don’t feel rushed by others.
- Take breaks in-between the courses if needed – but if you struggle with purging, avoid going to the toilet. Perhaps find a quiet room before the meal to have it as a “break room”.
- Avoid having too much alcohol. After the meal:
- Reward yourself!
- If you find yourself having an urge after the meal, use some of the distraction strategies you planned for before the meal.
- Ask to move the leftover food in an area where you can’t see it (you can enlist the help of your trusted person to do this) – if that is not at all possible, then try to stay in the area of the house where the food is not visible to you (e.g. the living room and not the kitchen)
- If you are left with lots of leftover food, give away as much as possible to your guests, or pack it to give to the homeless. Tips for family and friends:
- Give time to listen and understand the person’s experience
- Learn about binge eating and be curious but not judgmental
- Avoid conversations about food, exercise, weight, body image around the table – help steer the conversation to other topics (have some in hand just in case)
- Check-in – offer encouragement
- Be available when needed
- Stay calm
- Don’t comment on appearances
- Spend some time with the person after the meal
- Recognize the person’s achievements
Dr Iakovina Koutoufa