Coping with an eating disorder at Christmas

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For a person with an eating disorder, Christmas can be a really difficult time. There is usually an abundance of food and of course sitting down to the family...

For a person with an eating disorder, Christmas can be a really difficult time. There is usually an abundance of food and of course sitting down to the family Christmas dinner. This expectation of eating with the family and often an extended group of people is stressful.

It’s good to remember that each family has their own traditions at Christmas and sitting down to the meal is only part of it, being together with the people you hold dear is important. Going for family walks, sitting down to watch a film together can all be part of your traditions and can remove some of the focus away from the meal.

At Christmas we often get together with relatives and friends that we may not have seen for some time. This can be a really difficult time for the person with the eating disorder as their appearance may have changed significantly since they last saw them. They may be concerns around comments they may make – even if they are well intended. A person with an eating disorder is likely to be feeling really anxious about the possibility of eating with a person/people that they do not usually eat with. They may have very strong views on what they feel they can and cannot cope with whilst other family members may feel that Christmas should not be dominated by an eating disorder.

There are ways in which you can be mindful about not causing more distress to the person with the eating disorder whilst still keeping Christmas on track:

  • A major pressure point is going to be the Christmas meal so consider inviting only close family and friends – people they are used to eating with.
  • So, you still see other family and friends – consider getting together and doing something where a meal is no the main focus – perhaps going for a walk or a more informal get together.
  • Speak to your guests in advance so they are aware that however well-meaning their comments might be they can be misconstrued and upsetting. Comments such as “You look well” can be misinterpreted by a person with an eating disorder and they may think the suggestion I that they have put on weight. “I’m stuffed” after a big meal and other comments about the quantity of food being consumed is also unhelpful.
  • Guests might be concerned about saying the wrong thing and causing upset, however, it’s a good thing to keep the conversation going at the dinner table as it’s a good distraction from eating. Also, making really positive statements such as “I’ve really been looking forward to seeing you” are a really good way of starting the conversation.

The Christmas meal

It can be a good idea to have a Christmas meal earlier in December so the person with the eating disorder can prepare. It is also worth thinking about how you are going to organise the Christmas meal and what you can out in place to help.

  • It can be useful to plate up some food not just for person with the eating disorder but for all the guests. This way, they can have an agreed portion of protein and carbohydrate and a choice of vegetables. This way they are not singled out and it doesn’t draw extra attention to them.
  • Consider the triggers for their anxiety and try to address them and the way in which you serve the meal.
  • It can be really useful for the person with the eating disorder to sit next to someone who they know will be on their side and help them through this difficult time. It makes it easier if there is a sense of trust and understanding.
  • Have something planned for after the meal, perhaps sitting down together to watch a film or a game, this can be a good distraction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity.

Helpline 0808 801 0677

Youthline 0808 801 0711

Studentline 0808 801 0811

1 in 4 people in England need mental health support*

We’re here to ensure you do not have to face it alone.

If you feel like you need professional help, we’re a private mental health hospital in Windsor with nurses on hand 24 hours a day who provide expert clinical treatment.

You can call Cardinal Clinic on 01753 869755 for confidential help and advice or send us an enquiry.

*McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey.

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