How To Support Someone With An Eating Disorder At Christmas

Serve dinner as a buffet and shift the focus with a game, says the new NHS advice.
SolStock via Getty Images

Eating disorders are challenging all year round, but all the focus on food and socialising can cause an additional strain at Christmas.

To help friends and family support loved ones, the NHS has teamed up with eating disorders charity Beat to create a new set of guidelines, with a focus on practical tips to make the festive season easier.

The joint advice is based on first-hand experience from clinicians, patients and parents. It outlines tips that can ease the pressure for those with an eating disorder. The suggested techniques include:

  • Serve food as a buffet rather than as sit-down meals

  • Minimise the social expectations of people with eating disorders over the festive season

  • Treat meals on and around Christmas Day as routinely as possible

  • Plan well ahead and think about how food features in your days

  • Once dinner is over, shift the focus on to other activities like playing games or watching a family film

  • Make loved ones aware to avoid questions about weight or appetite.

Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS associate clinical director for children and young people’s mental health said: “Living with an eating disorder is a constant struggle but Christmas can be particularly challenging with an increased focus on food, drink and big get togethers, while the added pressure of New Year resolutions and the bombardment of weight loss messaging is just around the corner.

“Helping families manage these conditions at home can be crucial and hopefully these tips will really make a difference.

Eating disorders can sometimes go undetected for a long time, even by those closest to the person who is unwell. As Christmas can also be a time where families come together, often for the first time in several months, it may be the first time symptoms are noticed. Beat has published advice on how to speak about the topic of eating disorder if you’re worried about a loved one.

From 24 December to 1 January, the charity will also be open every day from 4pm-8pm. Anyone in need of support can get in contact via phone, email, anonymous one-to-one webchat or social media messaging.

The Beat Helpline can be reached on 0808 801 0677, or there is a dedicated Youthline for under-18s on 0808 801 0711. The online support groups and one-to-one webchat can be accessed on beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.