The festive period can put a lot of pressure on us all, and it can be especially challenging for people with eating disorders and their families. But remember, you’re not alone.
In this blog, two of our wonderful supporters Emily and Elisha reflect on their experiences of navigating Christmas with an eating disorder, and some festive reminders for us all.
Emily: December, a season of joy, love, peace (this list alone is exhausting)… where lights shine bright in a world that can at times appear so dark. And with it, the arrival of Christmas - sparking heightened emotions which can influence our mental well-being.
I am sure that we have all at some point found ourselves lost in the busyness of gift buying, dinner prepping stemming from a pressure to conform and create the perfect day. In the process, we can forget the true meaning behind the chaos.
More importantly, for those wrestling with an eating disorder whether in the initial stages of recovery or going through the process of restoration, (eating disorders are not simply about reaching a healthy BMI) Christmas is without a doubt the most difficult time of the year to embrace.
The question that many may be silently asking from the outside is why?
With such focus placed on food from the onset it can be difficult for healthy habits to flourish.
Recovery is a minefield on its own, so throwing Christmas into the mix can be extremely overwhelming.
Elisha: Anorexia is hard all year round, but at Christmas time, for me it somehow got harder. I remember all the Christmas I suffered with anorexia and the pure struggle it was. Christmas dinners ending in tears with a half-eaten plate… and that was a good Christmas. Others would be meltdowns and tantrums, screams echoing the house.
But not all Christmas have to be like that: this Christmas doesn’t have to be like this. This year is one of my very first I consider myself anorexia free, and I am excited. I am excited to eat and be merry; to be content when eating. I’m excited to play games on my console, not to lose weight but for pure joy and a laugh with my family (I have two left feet so playing just dance always ends up with laughter like Christmas should be). I want to sing my heart out to Christmas tunes without draining my energy and feeling unwell because you need to be physically well to truly belt out Mariah Carey. And you can’t win board games if you’re preoccupied and concentrating with an eating disorder.
Christmas is more than eating, it’s all the little moments that build up to one great big picture of joy and happiness.
Christmas only comes round once a year - why spend it worrying about eating “too much”? But then again, why spend any day worrying about eating “too much”? it’s a waste of time, energy and happiness. Christmas can be hard enough, especially this year with the worries over money that most people have. Spend it enjoying what you have and with who you have in your life.
Emily’s festive reminders
Our words have the power to simultaneously heal or harm. With such an increased dialogue around calories, food, and image it is helpful to consider making room for other topics. For example, phrases along the lines of “the diet starts after Christmas” or the mention of how many calories an item contains is not necessary. Yes, we are human and can unintentionally fall into these conversations. But we do not need to be shaming each other for what we eat. Remember kind words go a long way.
There is more to each of us than what is seen in the mirror. We are unique, gifted beings and have a purpose in this world.
Eating disorders can develop from numerous factors whether they are trauma related or linked to other difficult life events experienced. So, if you find yourself connecting with someone struggling, take time to get to know who they are and what they enjoy.
Don’t be afraid of beginning conversation - avoidance is not helpful, as eating disorders thrive in isolation.
Christmas time is a joyous season to be filled with peace and even if someone is going through a silent battle, they deserve to experience the light too!
So, remember to create environments that are safe and do not inhabit chaos. I think we could all grow from setting aside the noise, our prejudices and learn to find joy in the seemingly simple moments.
If you are struggling with the myriad of emotions and elements that come into play with Christmas, hold onto this truth that you are not alone.
There is hope for your future and complete freedom from any eating disorder is possible. Yes, recovery is not linear and by no means an overnight process. But take courage this season in knowing that you will make the climb - and in turn experience the beauty and wonder on the other side. So, as we embark on making space for a New Year whilst embracing the wonder in the unordinary let’s give hope to those who may be struggling.
-Contributed by Elisha and Emily
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in Emily and Elisha's story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.