Eat, Drink And Be Merry? The reality of living with an eating disorder during the “most wonderful time of the year”.
Christmas is often thought of as a relaxing time of year – time spent with family and friends, eating good food and drinking one too many (mulled) wines – but for the 1.6 million people in the UK and the millions of others around the world who suffer with an eating disorder, Christmas can feel anything but relaxing.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please read with caution as this article contains details that could be triggering.
I love Christmas just as much as anyone else, if not more! I’ve done all my Christmas shopping and started begging my husband to put up our tree and decorations as soon as Halloween was over (the answer was, and still is, “not yet”), so I hope this doesn’t come across as written by The Grinch, I just want to write an honest piece about what it’s like to live with an eating disorder at Christmas.
For those who don’t know, I have struggled with an eating disorder for much of my child, teenage and adult life. I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at 12 years old and I’m 28 now, so I’ve experienced more Christmases with an eating disorder than without.
I think it’s fair to say that when you think of Christmas, you often think of food. Advent calendars, mince pies, tubs of Celebrations, office Christmas parties, free festive samples, adverts for Christmas food (and not just Christmas food… M&S Christmas food) – so much about Christmas is centred around food and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but for someone with an eating disorder, it can feel a little overwhelming at times.
I know it can be hard for people to understand how food can be a fear – after all, it’s a basic human need just like air and you don’t hear of people who are scared to breathe – but try this: picture your biggest fear… let’s say it’s spiders. Then imagine that, every year, there’s an entire day that essentially revolves around spiders. Your grandad just wants to talk about spiders, your mum keeps offering you spiders, every advert on the TV is about spiders (cue grandad, “Doesn’t that spider look good?”) and THEN you have to sit down to a spider and not just a little spider… oh no, this is the biggest spider you’ve ever seen! And you have to do all this with a smile on your face because everyone else loves spiders and you don’t want to ruin the day (again). Okay, so maybe that example was a little extreme, but essentially that’s what Christmas Day is to someone with an eating disorder: an entire day that revolves around food.
I also want to point out that the anxiety doesn’t just start and end with Christmas Day either. The adrenaline kicks in as soon as the mince pies hit the shelves (which, let’s face it, gets earlier every year) but also continues well into the New Year, thanks to January diets.
For me personally, getting through January with an eating disorder is so much harder than December – diet talk is rife, but cleverly disguised as New Year’s Resolutions. Family, friends, work colleagues, even strangers – it feels as though everyone just wants to tell you about how much food they ate over Christmas and how they now need to lose weight.
It’s like the minute the clock strikes midnight on January 1st and we all finish singing Auld Lang Syne, the magic wears off – the “magic” being able to eat and drink what you want for the entire month of December with no consequences – and suddenly reality hits and everyone is doing a January Juice Cleanse to “shed the Christmas pounds” – sweet baby Jesus!
December 31st: “Have fun! Eat all the food!”
January 1st: “You had too much fun! Stop eating all the food!”
Talk in the office goes from, “Another mince pie? Go on then, it is Christmas after all!” to, “Take this tub of Celebrations away from me – I’m doing so well, one chocolate will ruin my diet!”
I guess the point of this article is admittedly to vent some of my festive frustrations, but also on a serious note, to highlight that Christmas isn’t always the “most wonderful time of the year” for everyone – especially for those struggling with an eating disorder.
That being said, I do wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year x