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Surviving Christmas With an Eating Disorder

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An estimated 6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder and most of those that are affected are aged between 14–25-year olds. The festive period can be one of the hardest times of year for young people suffering from this condition, with its focus on food and disruption of everyday routine. Many youngsters will feel stressed by this change in routine and this can worsen eating disorders. This is a period when friends and family need to keep a watchful eye and offer as much support as possible to their loved ones.

Thoughts of Christmas Day can make the sufferer even stop eating in the run up. Below are some food fears that can cause distress to anyone with this condition.

Food Fears

  • Stress – Large family meals
  • Loss of control – Binge eating due to the volume of food available
  • Unusual eating patterns – Being forced to consume more than you feel comfortable with
  • Different foods – Being forced to eat lots of fear foods
  • Diets – Talk of others’ diets or ‘fatness’
  • Family scrutiny – Comments from family about your diet or appearance; for example either that ‘you look well’ or that you ‘don’t eat enough’

In the UK, 1 in 100 women aged between 15 and 30, are affected by anorexia and the condition usually develops around the age of 16 or 17. Bulimia is around two to three times more common than anorexia nervosa, and 90% of people with the condition are female, this usually develops around the age of 18 or 19.

In the Netherlands, the most common eating disorders are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and BED (or binge-eating disorder). About 5,600 people suffer from anorexia nervosa in the Netherlands, 95% are female. According to the Netherlands Youth Institute, at least 22,000 people suffer from bulimia nervosa and a massive 160,000 people in the Netherlands are suffering from BED. 

Yes We Can Youth Clinic is a globally recognised international residential treatment centre in the Netherlands which specialises young people (13–25 years old) with complex behavioural disorders, addictions and related behavioural problems.  Coordinator and Counsellor Annemarie from the centre comments, ‘Having an eating disorder could be extra difficult at Christmas time – or any festive time really. Eating disorders are comparable with all forms of addiction; those who deal with an eating disorder eat to avoid feeling a certain way and are often very insecure. It’s a disease that’s present all year round.

‘However, the difficulty during Christmas is probably because it is a time where many feel obliged to spend time with family at the dinner table. Someone will for example compensate eating a normal amount of food during Christmas by eating less and losing weight in the weeks prior. Or by eating a lot and vomiting later, just so no one notices their eating disorder. And this goes for basically every event where people are expected to eat.’

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