Christmas can be a difficult time for those who are suffering from an eating disorder, particularly for the men who are suffering in silence. This year, Men Get Eating Disorders Too (MGEDT), is reaching out to sufferers so they can be less isolated this festive season. As a former sufferer of bulimia, I know first-hand how the focus of food can play havoc on the mental wellbeing of those suffering at this time of year.
From roast turkey, tins of sweets and mince pies - the temptation for excess of food is irresistible for many. However, for those suffering with anorexia and bulimia, the constant reminders of food can feel like never ending pain and torture. The time to be joyful is anything but that.
There was a time when I used to dread Christmas- months ahead of the big day. Talking to our service users I'd realised it was a common anxiety. Keith, a binge eater, told me: "I think this is something that has been going on since my childhood when often the Christmas week meant that shops were closed and you couldn't get to a shop to buy food for the whole week. That meant that people would stock up in preparation for a few days of 'feasting' before they could go and get the staples in when the supermarkets reopened. Of course now there is only a small amount of time that the shops close so there is no need to do the bulk buys like the past."
It's important to remember Christmas only lasts a couple of days and will pass by quickly. Despite feeling like a life sentence, living with an eating disorder need not be. By recognising you have a problem and speaking with others will help in those first steps towards support and recovery.
For those concerned about a loved one Christmas is a daunting time for someone with an eating disorder, and what the person needs is compassion and understanding from those around them. Breaking with tradition can be worthwhile if it allows the person freedom around food and eating - what matters is that the person feels they can cope, not that they eat 'normally'
Discussing some more with a friend of mine in the USA, a young rep for the National Eating Disorders Association and MGEDT Ambassador, he reassured me and other sufferers this festive season. Troy Roness said: "While I was in the depths of my illness, the holidays were especially difficult. My every thought, action, and moment were held captive to my eating disorder. I dolled-out hollow smiles and fake laughs to further the facade that I was 'fine.' However, my mind was never more than two seconds away from what I would or would not eat, where my access to the gym would come from, and how I would 'take care' of my indulgences during the holiday season.
"Little did I know, though, that my thoughts about family, friends, and enjoying myself were not indulgences at all - they were human and very, very normal. My eating disorder forced me to believe that I was a horrible person for wanting to enjoy life, especially at a time when family and friends provide the most support. An eating disorder, no matter what time of the year, is nothing short of self-punishment. But during the holidays, they can be especially difficult. Seek out your support systems, talk about how you are feeling, and utilize the tools you feel comfortable with to enjoy the time you need and deserve."
As so much of the holiday season is celebrated with food and meals, it can be a particularly stressful time for someone suffering from an eating disorder. Traditional practices can provoke an extraordinary amount of anxiety and make a vulnerable person much more prone to crisis. This is a time of year when sufferers need extra understanding, compassion, and support.
If you are worried about yourself this festive season, here are some tips on how to cope:
- Try to keep some perspective - worse things have happened.
- Know that it is not forever - even this will fade into memory.
- Know that you are not entirely responsible for yourself - no-one is an island.
- Remember that no-one is watching or judging you - in all likelihood they've got their own worries.
- Try to stay calm - this isn't worth getting upset over.
- It will get easier with time.
- You will come out the other side stronger.
Regardless whether you are home with family or alone at home this Christmas, you can reach out for help, during the Christmas period. You are not alone and nor should you feel that you are.
For more information and support this Christmas please visit www.mengetedstoo.co.uk Live chat one-to-one sessions will take place on Wednesday evenings, 7-8.30pm, and extra sessions over the festive period.
Please consider donating to the MGEDT Christmas Appeal via Just Giving. For every pound it will help one more person seek the support they need.