This can be a difficult time for someone with an eating disorder, writes specialist on the subject Fierna McManus
Mince pies, chocolate, turkey dinner, pudding ... ‘tis the season for feasting. However for someone with an eating disorder, Christmas can feel anything but merry or festive.
Mouthwatering adverts on TV showing scrumptious Christmas fare, shops bursting with all sorts of seasonal goodies, work party buffets and family gatherings with various culinary delights – there is undoubtedly an increased focus on food.
It is this focus and the sheer prevalence of food at Christmas that can make it an extremely difficult time for a person with an eating disorder. The pressures associated with Christmas can invoke feelings such as anxiety, panic, fear, guilt and shame which often worsen disordered eating behaviours.
That said, you don’t have to approach Christmas with blind hope and no plan to take care of yourself. The following is some advice that may prove useful.
Plan ahead. It is necessary to equip yourself with possible solutions to various situations that may occur. If you feel vulnerable and unsafe within situations you are more likely to revert to the eating disorder to restore a sense of control and self- protection.
Problem-solve in advance. Eliminate unreasonable behaviour expectations. Disappointed hopes can be a trigger for the eating disorder. Removing specific expectations helps you to enjoy whatever you are capable of during the holidays.
Keep the holiday season in perspective and reconnect with the authentic values of Christmas.
Create a support system where possible. Share your feelings to help lessen anxieties and help others be more understanding. Allow people to support you and don’t isolate yourself.
Family and friends play a vital role in supporting a loved one with an eating disorder. Discuss with the person about how best you can support them over Christmas and honour agreements you make.
Do not pressurise someone to eat. ‘Public eating’ can be very daunting and many feel they are being watched. Avoid staring. Christmas is not the time to get into a power struggle over food. Find other focal points that don’t involve eating.
Be prepared for questions or comments from people not seen in a while. Well meaning relatives may make positive statements about someone’s eating or appearance but these can be easily misinterpreted. Brief relatives beforehand that such comments are unhelpful and unwelcome.
Sensitivity is vital. Keep the primary focus and interest on the individual beyond the eating behaviours – the eating disorder is what they have, not who they are. The most beneficial act is to offer encouragement and support and express love and acceptance to the person.
The important thing to remember is whatever the difficulties faced by eating disorder sufferers and their loved ones at present, recovery is possible.
There was a time when I believed I would never enjoy Christmas again due to life with an eating disorder. Now, that seems a long time ago and as Christmas fast approaches I’m filled, not with anxiety or fearful expectation, but with warmth and bubbling anticipation for what should be a happy time for all.
Fierna Kennedy specialises in eating disorder counselling in Limerick. Through past experience of living with an eating disorder and extensive training, she endeavours to provide a non-judgmental, confidential and friendly service.
For more information and advice, contact Fierna Kennedy on 0876677228 or firstname.lastname@example.org