It’s December so in my book it’s officially okay to mention the C-word – Christmas, that is!
For many of us Christmas is a time of year for relaxation and spending time at home. We give ourselves permission to over-indulge in many things, but most significantly food and drink. From the daily chocolate fix in our advent calendars to the double helpings of turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas day, it’s almost impossible to avoid thinking about food as the holidays come around.
Understanding the Anxiety of Eating Disorders
With food being such a central aspect of the festivities, Christmas becomes a minefield for those with an eating disorder! Eating disorders can be likened to an anxiety disorder – the associated fears in eating disorders commonly being food, weight gain, and loss of control over these.
To help you get into the mindset of someone with an eating disorder at Christmas imagine this. Let’s say you have a terrible fear of heights and each year there is a month-long festival celebrating the sky – bear with me here!
There are frequent gatherings in which you are expected to embrace and appreciate the sky by climbing ladders, partying on bridges and hiking up mountains. How do you think you’d feel on the lead up to and during this festival? Terrified, right?
This is how Christmas can feel to someone with an eating disorder. With food being celebrated, on offer and on display everywhere, there is no escape.
Christmas Traditions Aren’t Always Merry and Bright
Many of us can list the Christmas traditions that are a big part of this holiday. The build up to the big day, visiting relatives, and the indulgence of food and drink. These are just some of the things that may cause someone with an eating disorder to feel stressed and uncomfortable the closer it gets to Christmas.
If you’re living with someone with an eating disorder, or will be spending more time with a family member with an eating disorder over the holidays, be mindful. Some traditions may cause them more anxiety around their eating disorder than you realise.
Visiting your hometown or hosting at home at Christmas gives us the opportunity to spend more time with relatives. Sometimes ones that we haven’t seen in a while. For someone with an eating disorder, regular comments from well-meaning friends and family about their appearance can spark negative thoughts about weight.
Another way that someone with an eating disorder can be thrown off by Christmas traditions is the break in routine. Everyone love a light-hearted debate about the correct time for Christmas dinner. 4pm on the dot, in time for the Queen’s Christmas speech, no later than midday? But remember that one part of treatment for eating disorders is to create a routine around eating times to help with the stability and regularity of eating. A few days of irregular eating times could take a long time to correct again.
The journey of treating an eating disorder can be long. The build up to Christmas can cause extra stress for someone with an eating disorder and feelings that they should reach a certain milestone in their recovery by Christmas. It’s important to remember that although Christmas is a time to be enjoyed and celebrated, it’s just one more day in the recovery process.
5 Tips for How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder at Christmas
So how do you help someone close to you at this difficult time of year? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Let them know that you appreciate it’s a very difficult time of year for them. Be open and let them know that you are there if they want to talk.
- If you are attending a social event together have a chat with them beforehand about how they would best like to manage the situation. Here are some questions to help: What could they manage to eat? What would they rather not eat? How will they manage any anxiety and thoughts that arise? How will you manage your own feelings? What input, if any, would they like from you?
- If their calendar is crammed with invitations to social gatherings discuss which ones he or she would like to attend. It’s okay to say no!
- Plan ahead for Christmas Day. Let them know what food is going to be available and discuss in advance how you will manage mealtimes, seeing family, and what other non-food related activities you will do together. Make sure that they have a say in the day.
- Caring for someone with an eating disorder is incredibly stressful and worrying so please make sure that you have someone to talk to and take time for yourself.
Eating Disorder Help in Worthing
For more help on caring for someone with an eating disorder see the BEAT website. Alison is a qualified and accredited psychotherapist in private practice specialising in eating disorders, CBT and counselling.
If you would like to get more information about how counselling for eating disorders could help you or someone close to you, contact me for an informal discussion or to make an appointment.