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.
Yes We Can Youth Clinics 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. They have compiled the following advice:
Top 10 Tips for Surviving the Festive Season with an Eating Disorder
- Focus on the positive and what the Christmas season is about – try and think less about the food and more about the people you are celebrating with.
- Practice – try eating the foods you will be offered on Christmas Day before the day itself, so you feel more comfortable with the options.
- Change the subject at the table – if you’re feeling uncomfortable with chats about food and diet try and change the subject to something you feel happier with.
- Remember food is not the enemy – keep fuelling yourself and your body, the negative thoughts are the enemy.
- Talk to your loved ones about any fears or worries - friends and family are here to help in your recovery, take that support as much as you can.
- Get out as much as possible – you may want to stay at home in what you feel to be a more controlled environment, but it is better to be with family and friends than alone.
- Hatch an escape plan – if you really feel like you can’t cope with the situation you find yourself in, make an exit plan where you can re-group and re-centre.
- Stay off social media during this period – it can seem as though everyone is having a “perfect” Christmas, whereas the reality doesn’t exist!
- Take one day at a time – and plan what will happen on that day, so you feel prepared for what lies ahead. Build in periods of time when you can be alone to reflect upon the day.
- Enjoy yourself – the festive season is all about people having fun, focus on what makes you happy and do your thing, not what others want you to do.
Co-ordinator and Counsellor Annemarie from the Yes We Can Youth Clinics 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.”
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’
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