We often think of Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year, with its seemingly never-ending outings, parties, and family gatherings, often revolving around food. For the estimated 1.25 million people in the UK who have an eating disorder, however, it can be one of the most distressing and challenging times for them.
People with eating disorders often try to hide their illness, which can be difficult at Christmas when eating is a social occasion and there’s pressure to be “on show”. They may also feel uncomfortable eating with relatives, or people they don’t see frequently, who might not know about their eating disorder or how to be sensitive to their needs. Add to this the disrupted routine Christmas can bring, and it’s easy to see how the excitement of the festive season can just end up causing more stress and anxiety.
However, if you’ll be supporting someone with an eating disorder this Christmas, there are some simple steps you can take to help the festive period go more smoothly.
The most important thing is to do is plan ahead: have an open conversation about what you’re going to do in the run-up to Christmas, Christmas Day and the New Year, and when and how food will be involved.
It can help to steer attention away from food, so once meals are over, clear everything away and find activities that focus on something else, such as a long walk, playing board games, or watching a funny film together. It’s also worth having a quiet word with well-meaning relatives. Your loved one may be feeling very sensitive already, so comments such as “Don’t you look healthy?” or “Haven’t you done well eating your dinner?” could be misinterpreted and cause more harm than good.
Here at Beat, we support those affected by eating disorders at every stage, from recognising the warning signs of an eating disorder, to seeking help, through to recovery and beyond. This year, we will be running a free Coping with Christmas course – all made possible thanks to National Lottery players, with funding from The National Lottery Community Fund.
The course was developed after receiving feedback from carers that they need a little extra support during the festive season, and we hope to provide them with the skills to make Christmas easier for all. It’s free to attend, and is running at Edinburgh Training and Conference Centre on November 30. It’s designed to empower carers and equip them with the skills to support someone with an eating disorder over the festive period, so that they feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
Christmas can be a special time to make memories, but just in case it doesn’t go quite to plan, it’s important to remember that there will still be plenty more opportunities to connect and enjoy spending time together throughout the year.
If you’re finding things difficult at any time of year, the Beat Helpline is here to help. We are available 365 days a year via phone, email, anonymous one-to-one webchat or social media messaging.
To contact the Beat Helpline, call 0808 801 0677, or if you’re under 18 there is a dedicated Youthline on 0808 801 0711. To access online support groups or the one-to-one webchat, visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk.
Caroline Price is Beat’s director of services
Beat’s Coping with Christmas course is on November 30 at Edinburgh Training and Conference Centre, 16 St Mary’s Street, from 10am -4/30pm (lunch included). It’s designed for those who have been caring for someone with anorexia, bulimia and/or binge eating disorder for less than five years. The course is free to attend, but there are limited spaces, so booking is required in advance. A refundable £10 deposit is needed to secure your place. To find out more about the course, or book your place, visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk