Christmas is generally a very exciting time.
I love Christmas so much! This wasn’t always the case though, and it’s important to remember that no matter how caught up you may be in the festive spirit, there will be others who aren’t.
Eating disorders at the best of times are exhausting and anxiety provoking, but this is magnified ten fold at Christmas, when suddenly everything about the day to day pressures of diet culture disappears and we are suddenly overwhelmed by being told to indulge in gluttony from each and every direction. Like it or not, a huge part of the festive season centres around food, from advent calendars to cheese and crackers to Christmas dinner. Everywhere you turn there are adverts for food of all descriptions. Contrary to the perception that people with eating disorders (specifically anorexia) don’t get hungry or think about food, the fact is that when you have an eating disorder of any description you always think about food. Especially with anorexia, it is your body’s way of trying to get you to stop starving. So being faced with it 24/7 makes it even harder to avoid those thoughts. In essence – it’s a very stressful time of year.
I’ve got five top tips for how to support someone with an eating disorder at Christmas.
One: Don’t pressure them.
I know you probably want Christmas to be perfect and want your loved one to enjoy it, and you also want them to be well. But at a time which is already laden with stress, any additional pressure could be enough to make someone snap. Know that they are doing the best they can, and try to support them with that.
Two: Give them warning.
Christmas is full of copious amounts of unmeasured and excess food. Let your loved one know what to expect. Tell them what you are cooking for dinner, and if you make any last minute changes, make sure they are aware. Don’t spring any surprises on them; many people wont be able to cope with this.
Three: Don’t draw attention to them.
Commenting on what someone is or isn’t eating is rude, whether you have an eating disorder or not. But at a time full of anxiety, drawing any additional attention to that person is going cause horrendous anxiety and is going to make them incredibly uncomfortable.
Four: Try to make other Christmas activities that don’t centre around food.
Contrary to every advertisement at this time of year, there is more to Christmas than just food. Try to come up with a selection of other activities that have nothing to do with food such as films or games – this will hopefully give that person a little bit of respite from the worries of the day.
Five: Let them know you are available.
As much as you may want to have fun and relax over the holiday period, mental illness doesn’t take a day off. Let the person you care about know you are available if they need any extra support – they may not ask for it otherwise because they worry about bringing people down or ruining Christmas. I’ve certainly felt that way in the past.
All of these things would have been incredibly helpful to me in the depths of anorexia, and hopefully if you know something with any eating disorder, they will find them helpful too.