Last Christmas was a write off for many of us. I spent mine awaiting the results of a PCR test, glued to the television watching a well-known Will Ferrell Christmas classic (best Christmas movie, I won’t hear otherwise). Christmas 2020 was different for me not only because of the pandemic, but because I was in the grip of an eating disorder. Anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder before will likely know the apprehension and fear that comes with Christmas. December is a time for family, friends, festivities, and food glorious food. If your someone who shudders at the mere mention of a carbohydrate, it can be a really scary time of year.
When I came home from university around mid-December last year, I was weak, pale and had lost an alarming amount of weight due to eating disorder behaviours. My hair was falling out, my periods had stopped and every time I stood up, I saw stars. Despite all this, nothing was going to stop me from losing weight, not even Christmas.
The day before I began treatment at my local eating disorder unit, my best friend Annie came round to see me bearing Christmas presents and a box of mince pies. Up until this point, I hadn’t really anticipated the severity of the situation I had got myself into. Part of me knew what I was doing was wrong and could see the damage and distress it was causing around me, but I didn’t care. I thrived off the control that restricting gave me. It wasn’t till I saw that plate of mince pies, something I once acknowledged as a Christmas delicacy, now just a plate of scary calories, that I realised how bad my relationship with food was.
As Christmas last year was overshadowed by Covid-19, my experience of navigating the holiday season with an eating disorder was likely not as distressing. However, knowing the kind of thoughts and fears I had about food last December, if Christmas had of been normal, the idea of spending the day at my grandma’s house piling a plate full of Yorkshire puddings, potatoes and stuffing, would one; simply not have had happened and two; likely have ended in tears.
At their core, eating disorders really have very little to do with food. They are control mechanisms, a way to deal with internal conflict in an external way. It didn’t matter how often someone would try and convince me to eat by saying “go on, its Christmas”, the idea of losing weight was nothing to do with vanity, but a way to numb emotions.
Luckily, I managed to receive help for my eating disorder. I spent the majority of 2021 working with psychiatrists and nutritionists at my local NHS eating disorder unit, meaning the prospect of Christmas this year is not too terrifying.
Unfortunately, those who are still fighting their illnesses may be feeling anxious as December quickly approaches. Worries that sufferers may face in the run up to Christmas include: the frightening prospect of eating in front others, potential comments people may make and the lack of control and absence of routine.
Beat is the UK’s leading eating disorder charity; they estimate that 1.3 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. The charity’s helpline service often sees an influx of phone calls around Christmas as it is a stressful time of year for those struggling. Beat have an abundance of information regarding dealing with Christmas whilst struggling with an eating disorder. They share tips and strategies that advise sufferers on how to cope with the anxieties brought on from Christmas, as well as ensuring their helpline and online chat service are always available
Contributed by Isabella
Recovery takes time and it isn’t a race – as long as I’m on the right track it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to reach the finish line. I'’ll get there eventually, and next Christmas perhaps anorexia won’t be invited at all.
In the run-up to Christmas, there is a lot to juggle. The gifts we need to buy, the plans we have to make to see loved ones, how we might manage disruptions to our routine - all of these things can be difficult to handle at once.
Whatever this Christmas season is like for you, I want to give you hope for the Christmas future. I can't tell you that recovery is linear, or that five years on I don't still have wobbles and moments of doubt. But I can say that all of my efforts, all of the hard work and fear that has gone into my recovery has been worth it.