Whenever I think of Christmas, I think of food. It's the time of the year where we open our selection boxes, put out our cheese boards, and attend numerous social events centred around eating. I know that, whenever it comes to December, I'm often invited to several Christmas meals, ranging from my mum's traditional Christmas roast, to sushi feasts with close friends.
At these Christmas meals, other attendees seem to have a great time. Crackers are pulled, funny stories are shared, and cups are filled with mulled wine. When food finally arrives, faces light up. People look genuinely happy to be reunited with their favourite festive treats, whether that be pigs-in-blankets or Granny's famous Christmas pudding.
Whilst others are delighted with their meals, I can't help but feel dread. As someone who has bulimia (you can read about it here) being served a large, multiple-course Christmas meal is absolutely terrifying. I feel pressured to eat it so I don't seem like a 'Grinch', but I also know that, if I do attempt to complete it, there's no way I'll be able to keep it down.
Now, don't get me wrong - bulimia isn't just a problem that I have at Christmas. I'm not claiming that the festive season is to blame for my eating disorder. What I am saying, though, is that it seems to limit the 'power' I have over my eating habits. Before December, I prepare most of my own meals: this means I can ensure they're a suitable portion size, and are packed with essential nutrients. When I eat out, menus generally aren't set, so I tend to go for one-course meals, and dishes I deem to be 'healthy'. As a result, I feel better about myself, and am rarely sick.
However, as the festive season approaches, this changes. Instead of people respecting my food choices, I'm encouraged to 'treat myself', and save any 'dieting' for the new year. My meal portions seem to grow, and suddenly I seem to lose control over what goes on my plate. For instance, when it comes to Christmas day, the roast that we eat is often served to me as a large portion. The dessert that follows the main course is given generously, with seconds being offered. After dinner has finished, boxes of luxury chocolates and biscuits are shared until the day finally comes to a close. Knowing the effort that has gone into this 'perfect' Christmas feast, I feel too bad to say 'no'. I feel too guilty to ask for smaller portion sizes, and I certainly don't want to seem like a 'spoil sport' by asking for an apple over Quality Streets. As a result, I continuously say 'yes'. I agree to eat whatever is offered to me, until I mentally can't take anymore.
At this stage, I make my excuses, ensure no one can hear me, head to the toilet and make myself throw up. I then feel terrible for the rest of the day, calling myself 'ungrateful', and feeling angry that I've (once again) let my terrible illness beat me. As party games go on, and the family gets merry on sherry, I struggle to focus on anything other than how badly I've let myself down. The rest of the day is spent battling my brain, as it constantly taunts me for being such a 'failure'. What started out as a joyful occasion becomes a day filled with misery and regret.
Christmas can be such a tough time for people with bulimia - that's why it's more important than ever to support those with eating disorders during this time of the year. Whilst you may think you don't know anyone with bulimia, many sufferers struggle in silence - I know it took me years to confide in some of my closest friends and family about it. So, if someone says 'no' to an extra serving of Christmas pud, or asks for a few less roasties, please respect that. Also, please don't joke about eating disorders - it really isn't funny to laugh about how you wish you were bulimic/anorexia so you 'could lose weight'. It just makes a mockery of people who have these devastating illnesses. If you do suspect someone has an eating disorder, try to be there for them. Let them know that they can talk to you.
Meanwhile, if you are someone who is struggling with bulimia, understand that it's okay to say 'no' when people are pressuring you to eat more food than your bulimic brain can handle. If you want to take charge of the portion size of your food, inform whoever's doing the cooking. Offer to serve your own food - if need be, explain that you're 'fussy' about what you eat, so you'd rather stick to the foods you like. If you are sick, try to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. Just because you slip up once, it doesn't mean that any chance of recovery is ruined. Please be kind to yourself.
Finally, know that there is help and support out there. During the festive period especially, bulimia can make you feel isolated. However, you're not alone. Doctors' surgeries may close for a few days but, when they reopen, know you can always talk to your GP about how you're feeling. In the meantime, there's so many useful resources and helplines you can access, such as Beat. I get how tough the festive period can be when you're bulimic, but please know that there are so many people who can relate to what you're going through, and are here to help you. Know that, this Christmas time, you are not on your own.