Surviving eating disorders at Christmas

ED adviceChristmas is a time of sharing and coming together with family; it is a time for giving and a time for celebrating. However, for many people with eating disorders, it is also a time of great anxiety. Disruptions to their normal eating patterns and an abundance of rich food available can thwart even the most well intentioned of recovery plans. SRSH have put some advice together to help you survive Christmas.

With anorexia present, Christmas wasn’t the usually fun family time for me; instead it was often very lonely, very stressful and I was filled with guilt for the burden I was placing on my family at what is meant to be such an enjoyable time. I was lonely because I locked up inside my own head; replaying thoughts and calories over and over again, it was stressful because I needed to avoid all the foods which were around me and guilt-laden because I could see the strain this was putting on my family. It was very hard for me to stay positive over the Christmas period but I found that keeping my bedroom door open meant people would come in and sit with me even if I couldn’t face being around the food downstairs and I found keeping a journal over this period was particularly helpful because it meant I didn’t have to trouble anyone anymore than I already had with the way I was feeling.

That is a lot of work for you! I do have personal experience
and even when I was very ill i still, as am sure many people do, wanted
to enjoy Christmas as much as possible and wanted to try to minimize my
anxiety around it. I found that getting involved as much as possible
with Christmas planning helped my anxiety, I helped with the food
shopping, planning eating times and with the cooking. This helped me as
I was still able to be involved with all the Christmas celebrations yet
I still had some control over what was going on, by helping with the
cooking I was able to see and know what I was eating which helped to
reduce my anxiety with Christmas dinner. Instead of having the worry of
bingeing on chocolate or the guilt of not being able to eat them, I
asked for specific Christmas presents, which prevented the overload of
chocolate gifts from friends or from worried relatives trying to force
me to eat by buying chocolate. Instead of going out and getting drunk,
something that I was anxious about because of the alcohol, I invited
friends over for other activities such as watching new DVDs and
Christmas films or playing bored games, so I still got to see my
friends without feeling isolated from not being able to go out.

Christmas is undoubtedly the most high stress event in the annual calendar for a family with an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a horrid illness, tormenting the sufferer but equally torturing friends and family. Christmas is that time of year when we gather close and as a family come together to be together. While other families joined together to ice the Christmas cake or make the mince pies, my family grumbled and moaned as the eating disorder took control of cake making. We asked why she was making the Christmas puddings when we knew she'd never eat them. As other families worried about whether the in-laws would get along, we planned how to cope if the eating disorder through a tantrum over Christmas lunch. Christmas is a tine of high expectation, we've waited all year to celebrate, but expectations open the possibility of disappointment and frustration. As a family we learnt to cope with Christmas by lowering the expectations, by trying to do something different at Christmas: Christmas wasn't going to be the same as it had once been, so it was easier to stop trying to recreate a high expectation event. We took some of the focus off a main family meal and had more food scattered through the day, so there was not that single major crisis point. We took time to walk, to be alone, to stay calm so that the little things that the eating disorder did, did not stop us from celebrating Christmas with our sister / daughter. The Christmas we all celebrate dates back to festival of light and hope in the middle of the dark of winter, an opportunity to keep spirits high through the cold. I think that a family with an eating disorder needs this festival more than any other - we needed hope in the darkness

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