• If you have a tumultuous relationship with food, the Christmas party season can be a minefield of potential so called 'slip ups'

  • Therapist Harriet Frew explores 12 common thinking traps for the 12 days of Christmas, and some healthier alternatives

  • If your relationship with food causes you distress, therapy can help. Find your therapist here


It’s December 5, and the party is two short weeks away. You want speedy weight loss, this driving you headlong into a miracle shake-diet pronto. In the first week, you lose three pounds and feel euphoric. At the party, you promptly regain the lost weight ‘the buffet was so tempting’, and then slate yourself daily in the run up till Christmas.

You know that dieting doesn’t work. You now listen to your body and trust hunger and satiety cues. You take pleasure in devouring delicious gingerbread and tangy mulled wine, without overeating. The desire to overeat has gone because no food is forbidden.


On Christmas morning, you’re the angel of self-control. You’re starving hungry but valiantly resist the morning champers and scrambled egg combo that your partner is scoffing. Not one morsel of food will pass your lips as you save yourself for the feast. It gets to 3pm and you’re faint with hunger. On an empty stomach, a sweet sherry sends blood sugar soaring, then crashing, leaving you desperate to eat and eat. Once you start, you can’t stop.

You have a light breakfast to avoid getting over hungry. You appreciate every mouthful of your scrumptious Christmas dinner, eating slowly and savouring the crispy potatoes and succulent turkey. You are too full to eat the Christmas pudding straight away. Instead, you enjoy a portion later, loving every sweet mouthful.


You are not allowed to eat mince pies, chocolates are forbidden and Christmas cake is the devil incarnate. You look longingly at others delighting in these foods, dreaming of having just one mouthful.

You give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food you fancy. You have learned the hard way that banning foods only increases your wish to overeat or binge on them. You choose to eat foods you genuinely adore.


You count calories, avoid carbohydrates and think continuously about food, fearing you will lose control of eating.

There are no food rules. You understand how to listen to your body and feel able to respond to its needs.


Your stomach is either growling with hunger or full to exploding. You completely over-did it at the buffet – yummy profiteroles with dark chocolate sauce and cream, meaty sausage rolls and three different slices of cake.

You recognise the sensation of fullness. One slice of cake leaves you satisfied physically and emotionally.


You can’t enjoy the creamy gateaux or chocolate Advent treats, as every food comes with a mountain of guilt. When you restrict to ‘healthy options’ you feel deprived and miserable.

You love the Lebkuchen spicy biscuits with your morning latte, sitting in your favourite coffee shop.


When your mother-in-law upsets you, you wolf down several Quality Street in quick succession.

You’re feeling cross, being stuck in the kitchen. You take care of yourself by talking to your partner and then taking a brisk walk, removing yourself from the chaos.


You starve your poor body, yearning for a different physique and fail to appreciate the body you have.

You don’t always accept your body, but you can appreciate your strengths and gloss over your weaknesses. You work to take care of it and wear clothes that flatter your figure.


Exercise is compensation for the bowl of Christmas pudding and brandy butter. You struggle to focus on conversations, berating yourself for how fat you think you are.

You go for a morning walk in the crisp, frosty air. You revel in the freedom of movement, whilst crunching in the icy puddles.


You choose from the menu based on the ‘food police’ advice in your head.

You make food choices that honour your taste buds. You recognise that true health is more than a perfect diet, rather also valuing your mental health and relationships.


You weigh yourself every single day, sometimes more. This is how you evaluate your worth.

You celebrate the festive period and focus on the bigger picture of friends, family and fun.



You avoid Christmas socialising because you don’t feel thin or good enough to be out.

You go to the party and dance with joyful abandon.


Dieting doesn’t work and often leads to bingeing, overeating and poor body image. Once in this cycle, it can be hard to break out of. Be kind and patient with yourself as you work on your relationship with food. If you feel stuck with this, it might be the time to seek out further support though counselling.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!

Further reading:

On surviving a family Christmas

Start the Christmas season with self-care

When you lose control around food

Brain food: eating for a healthy mind-gut relationship

Helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food