17 Dec 2020

A Guide to Navigating the Festive Season After the Year That Was


2020 has been an extremely challenging year for many people, especially those people experiencing eating disorders and their loved ones.  The Christmas and holiday season may be tougher than usual this year – for a range of reasons.

We know that what works for someone, may not work for another so we encourage you to find positive strategies that work for you. Here are some tips that may be of help over this time.

  1. Take the focus off food 

Whilst there is a significant focus on food at Christmas time, it can be helpful to shift this focus and reflect on even one thing that you are grateful or even proud of. Considering all the challenges of the year that has been, being able to spend time with loved ones is something to celebrate.  Eating disorders often put a negative light on so many things and enjoy sabotaging positive events and occasions. So, instead, make this time less about the food and more about the things that you appreciate, that bring you joy. You might like to set a realistic intention at the start of the day, write it down and refer to it at times over the day to help you through.

  1. Plan for Christmas Day….

Having a plan, even a loose one, can help reduce worries as Christmas day approaches and on the day itself. Have some questions up your sleeve so you feel more comfortable chatting with people, have an ordinary meal on Christmas day and plan a few post meal activities; a gentle walk (if permitted) play a board or card game, watch a movie, play some music or do some drawing.

3…And the days following

It’s important to remember that often people experiencing eating disorders prepare and get through Christmas day quite well and it’s the days shortly after where emotional fatigue may set in with a strong and intense eating disorder voice. Sometimes the time between Christmas and New Year seems to last forever and involves so much food & drink. You may want to plan activities that the whole family can enjoy which don’t revolve around food. Once Christmas day is over there is so many things to do; cinema, theatre, shopping, activity days out and unique holiday events. Again, try to keep mealtimes as normal as possible and then put the food away.

  1. Give your loved one a free pass

Let your loved one know that you recognise the Christmas period may bring up challenges in terms of eating disorder thoughts or behaviours. Let them know they are allowed to take time out, leave the room or leave early if they need to. Plan ahead so you have a code they can signal to you to say they need a break, without everyone else needing to know. You might pre-arrange for a sibling or favourite relative to be ready to go outside to play with pets, or do another activity with someone who understands what you’re experiencing.  This can   let you just  be in that moment.

  1. Plan for unhelpful comments from relatives

With Covid-19 restrictions bringing up sudden changes to eating and exercise behaviours and routines, body shape and weight shape changes have occurred for many people. People have coped in different ways,  and it’s important to note these coping strategies have not been right or wrong – they were what was needed to navigate through a global pandemic. Focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of people rather than body shape, weight and appearance is key.  As a family or group, you may like to encourage a body talk free zone, where discussions and comments on appearance are discouraged.  This can also help someone who is experiencing an eating disorder and/or body image concerns. Often, well-meaning relatives and friends comment on weight, shape or appearance, which is far from helpful in terms of someone’s wellbeing. It is important to remember, that:

  • No one has the right to comment on another person’s body shape, weight, or size.
  • Commenting on weight lost or gained does not help a person’s recovery.
  • Toxic and general body talk is not positive for anyone’s body image.
  • Comments about what a person is eating (or not eating) is equally unhelpful.

It may be helpful to brief these people beforehand or share this resource with them so they can feel like they come to family events prepared. Having a blanket rule for everyone can also really help – “We will not talk about food, weight or shape today.” However, be warned that someone might forget this and slip up. Time spent with your loved one, contingency planning for unhelpful comments and coming up with some useful strategies is invaluable.

  1. Be prepared for insensitive comments

Part of recovery is learning to deal with people who may say unhelpful things or not be aware that what they are doing or saying can have a negative impact. Perhaps you and your loved ones can role play and prepare for these circumstances. Some useful strategies to divert attention away from the insensitive comment/action might include:

  • Change the subject
  • Tell a funny joke
  • Blow loudly on a party blower
  • Have a code (e.g. a loud cough) and free pass to walk away
  • Leave the room
  • Think up some useful phrases (for you or your loved one to say) and practice saying them beforehand:
    • “We agreed not to make comments about food today.”
    • “We agreed that we wouldn’t be talking about weight, shape or appearance”
    • “Could we change the subject?”
    • “It isn’t helpful to me when people talk about food, weight or shape.”
    • “I would prefer it if we could talk about something else.”
  1. Reflect and plan for the year ahead

The festive season can also be about reflecting on the year gone past and planning for the one ahead. You could write down your reflections or chat with your family and loved ones. Think about what things have gone well this year, and what things you would like to improve on or strengthen in 2021. It can sometimes be overwhelming to look too far ahead, so even planning for the day, the week or even the month ahead is a great start.

Thinking about values; what is important to you, can help point you in the right direction and help you along in your recovery, no matter what stage you’re at. Values aren’t a map that tells us exactly where to go, instead they are like a compass guiding us in the right general direction for our decisions and actions. So, what do you want your afternoon, tomorrow, next month or 2021 to look like? Using values can help us create and plan for recovery and carer support journey.

  1. Be Kind To Yourself

It has been an incredibly tough year and you have made it through.  That is an achievement that deserves to be celebrated, in whatever way sparks joy and pride in you.


Please note our Helpline will be closed on Dec 25th, 26th, 28th 2020 and Jan 1st 2021. For urgent support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or 000 in the case of an emergency.

Otherwise, we’re here for you over the holidays and can be reached from 8am-midnight (AEST), 7 days a week. 1800 33 4673, via webchat or email support@butterflyfoundation.org.au