Festivities, family, friends, fun and food are all synonymous with the Christmas period. A chocolate for advent everyday beforehand; mince pies, cheese, and mulled wine in the build-up; selection boxes for breakfast; mountains of roast potatoes, pigs in blankets, Christmas and Yorkshire puds for lunch, and turkey and stuffing sandwiches well into the New Year are all the things most of us have spent October and November dreaming of. But for the 1.6 million people in the UK suffering with an Eating Disorder, Christmas will be more of a nightmare.
As many addictions and mental illnesses crave structure and normality, this Christmas holiday will be a big challenge for many. But while there is deservingly a lot of publicity for those who are homeless at Christmas, ill at Christmas, or alone at Christmas: there is not enough for those who are suffering silently, having become seasoned experts at hiding it and putting on a smile, and for those who feel embarrassed, jealous and more alone than ever at the time of year they are told they should feel their most happy, carefree and grateful.
Christmas is undoubtedly one of the biggest yearly tests someone suffering from an Eating Disorder will face – with Easter and their own birthday usually making close second.
Nobody wants to be the family member that puts a strain on Christmas (we’ll leave that role to the estranged drunk aunties – although an ED sufferer may still be spending more of the big day with a head down the toilet). Instead they might spend the six weeks before desperately fasting to pre-emptively lose the weight they dread they will pile on, or enter the New Year obsessively exercising as punishment for behaving in a way most would see as ‘normal’ and a permissible result of a good time.
You’d be forgiven for reading this and thinking “come on, everyone overindulges at Christmas”. We’ve all sat down to watch the Queen’s speech with a food baby – or, better yet, missed it because of a full-blown food coma. However, there is a grave difference between being uncomfortably full and feeling so full that you feel compelled to spend the rest of the day hiding from your loved ones out of shame, or more sinisterly, being so disgusted you feel it necessary to cause your body harm.
So please, when you’re nearing the end of that bottle of port, spare a moment to think about, or, better yet, watch out for those suffering from our society’s most deadly mental illness. It might be the family member frequently vanishing from the dining table, retiring to their room for the day by 7pm; the friend who looks visibly sick when opening every present, in case it’s something else edible; the colleague who declines all social invitations and dodges the free staff meal, or just the person in the supermarket looking frantic and lost. Because for these people the next fortnight will be an overwhelming battle, and far from the most wonderful time of the year.
Useful websites and helplines: