Christmas can be a frightening time of year for those with an eating disorder, with one of the main triggers being their relationship with food. It’s almost impossible not to think about food, with advent calendars to feasting on Christmas Day as a constant reminder. The festive season is a time of cheer for most people and one of the ways we share this is through celebratory meals, but if you have an eating disorder you may feel excluded from the season. Covid has made this year especially challenging and restrictions due to the pandemic and uncertainty around Christmas will be a worry for many.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: ‘Many people often use their relationship with food to deal with how they are feeling, and this is a period when friends and family need to keep a watchful eye and offer support where needed. If you think you or a loved one might be having problems with eating habits or feel differently about food, you could have an eating disorder or be developing one.’
Food brings us pleasure and joy; we realise that food is more than just fuel and feasting together is part of the festive experience. Overindulging in this instance is considered culturally acceptable and is part of the celebration of events.
When the individual has moved from a healthy emotional relationship to food and uses food as an emotional prop and a coping mechanism. Secret eating and overeating too much of one thing because you feel stressed or anxious will be part of this. Isolating oneself and not sharing problems with others is a key sign, as is the odd occasion of purging such as excessive gym use.
Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating
Signs and symptoms include disappearing to the toilet for lengthy periods during mealtimes, going to the gym excessively and compulsively and being overly controlling on food consumption. The individual will display patterned behaviours around control and purging, such as a ritualised relationship towards food, calorie counting at every opportunity. Mood problems such as depression and anxiety over social standing will be obvious, as will body image problems.
Signs of eating disorders
- Spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape
- Avoiding socialising when you think food will be involved
- Eating very little food
- Deliberately making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat
- Exercising too much
- Having very strict habits or routines around food
- Changes in your mood
You may also notice physical signs
- Feeling cold, tired or dizzy
- Problems with your digestion
- Your weight is very high or very low for someone of your age and height
- Not getting your period for women and girls
ED (eating disorders) is a disordered relationship to food that has negative consequences for you and those around you. It’s a serious condition that needs specialist help as soon as possible. It can affect men or women, about a quarter of sufferers are male, though this may be an under-representation, and it often develops early between 13 and 20 years old.
How to get help this Christmas
Getting to the point where you can enjoy a meal can take a lot of help from others, especially health professionals. If you think this is an eating disorder, you need to get professional help as soon as you think this is a problem. First, call your GP and ask for an extended appointment to talk about your concerns. Don’t go alone if self-referred, take someone you trust along to offer the support you need.
Most importantly, turn up well-informed, the NICE guidelines provide very comprehensive information for the public. Treatment can be very successful but as with all mental health issues the earlier it is sought the better. Treatment involves help with diet plans and exercise plans, medical help, psychological therapy for sufferers and families, psychosocial training for sufferers and families, use of specialist support groups.