Good food guide

Eating disorders and Christmas

content supplied byNHS Choices

Christmas, with its focus on food and more food, can be a difficult time if you have an eating disorder.
Scroll down to watch a video on bulimia nervosa.

If you or a member of your family has an eating disorder, the festive season can still be enjoyed if you plan ahead and follow a few tips.

Share your feelings

According to the eating disorder charity Beat, the key to a happier Christmas is to be as open about your feelings as you can be.

“Christmas revolves around food," says Mary George of Beat. "There's communal consumption, and usually lots of it. That’s why people with eating disorders approach Christmas with a great deal of trepidation.

“But if you can share your fears with your family, it can lessen your anxiety and can help them be more understanding. Try sitting down with your family before Christmas to talk about it.

"Attempting to set rigid guidelines on what you will eat, where you’ll eat, or where you’ll be served food, is not a good idea.

“On the day, events or your feelings might not turn out as you expected. You’ll feel under even more pressure if you have agreed, for example, to eat a certain amount.”

Ways of coping

Because food is traditionally a big part of Christmas, you might find that your eating patterns get worse at this time of year. If you have anorexia, your anxiety about eating may increase.

If you have bulimia, you may go through more cycles of binge eating followed by purging (vomiting or starving yourself).

But being aware of this can help you prepare ways of coping. Beat has collected tips that other people with eating disorders have used. They focus on finding an outlet for your feelings.

If you're tempted to binge, try talking to someone about your feelings instead. It can be a relative, or you could phone a friend, or it could be a third party such as a support group.

Coping tips:

  • Write down how you're feeling.
  • If you're tempted to binge or feel overwhelmed on Christmas Day, try taking time out. Go for a walk, or listen to music.
  • If you do binge, don’t punish yourself. It doesn’t mean you've failed.
  • The Beat helpline and message boards (see External links) are running during Christmas. Advisers can help you cope with your feelings.

Planning meals

If you're cooking for a relative or friend with an eating disorder, it puts special demands on you at Christmas.

Sensitivity is vital. It might be tempting to make positive, encouraging comments about someone's eating, but these can easily be misinterpreted.

For example, if you praise someone with anorexia for eating, they might think you mean they're eating too much and are likely to put on weight.

“Christmas isn’t the time to make an issue of an eating disorder, especially when other relatives are around,” says George.

Some people with eating disorders like to be praised when they eat appropriately, but others don't. It might be a good idea to talk about this with your friend or relative during a private moment before Christmas.

“Most of all, offer your relative or friend space, and be supportive,” says George. “If they want to disappear for a walk, be understanding.

“Remember, there can be more to Christmas than food. Try to find other focus points for the day that don’t involve eating.”

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