Tips on supporting someone with an eating disorder this Christmas

The count down to Christmas has begun! There’s been a Christmas tree in my flat kitchen since November and the inflatable Rudolf on the windowsill now has a tinsel scarf, all and all I’m feeling festive. Being at Uni has really brought back some of that childish excitement that comes with Christmas. I had a lovely time on Friday making paper snowflakes with some of the girls I live with, I haven’t done that in years!

In the past few Christmases has been a very hard time for me. I spent three Christmases with an eating disorder and I couldn’t help but dread this time of year for that reason. It’s such a contrast to how I feel now. If you had asked me two years ago how would I feel about making snowflakes with my flatmates as I eat a massive chicken casserole, I would have ran. Enjoying Christmas felt impossible to me with anorexia.

In the last few days I’ve been going through some of my older posts correcting spelling mistakes I’ve missed. It’s been really nice reading things from a few years back and seeing just how far I’ve come and how faithful God has been. There was one post particular from 2017 that really struck a chord with me. It was the one where I talked about how you can support someone with an eating disorder. The post didn’t do very well, but I still believe there are a lot of good points in there that people should know. So, with Christmas coming our way I’ve decided to rewrite it as a Christmas edition. I know that it’s not going to be the most relevant post for a lot of you, but even if I help one person through this it’s worth my analytics taking a hit from this post.

Christmas is a very hard time of year with those battling any kind of eating disorder. There’s a lot of uncertainty, lot of anxiety, lot of attention and so much time spent around food. It’s a really hard time. I’m hoping I can use my experiences to provide a few tips for those supporting a loved one or friend with an eating disorder this Christmas.

I am going to start with a disclaimer.

I am NOT a professional. I have had no training when it comes to eating disorders, I’m not a doctor, a counselor or any other health professional. I’m simply someone who has battled with an eating disorder and I’d like to draw on my experiences in the helps of helping other people. At the end of the post I’m going to link a few trusted websites that offer professional advice and support with eating disorders. If you are supporting someone with an eating disorder then I highly recommend that you check them out. 

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get onto the post!

Reduce unnecessary time spent round the dinning table

Christmas is great for catching up with family and friends you might not have seen for a bit. But the dining table can be a major source of stress for some people.

I found after we’d finished eating to be one of the hardest parts. I was so acutely aware that other people had empty plates but mine still had food on it. I was worried that the longer I sat there, the more likely someone would ask me or challenge me on my lack of food consumption.

To get around that, try and encourage everyone into the living room. There’s still sofas for people all to sit around, people can still talk, but you’re taking away some of the stress that comes with sitting round a table with food in front of them. Sofas are probably more comfortable for everyone too.

Make sure there are distraction during and after food

Christmas crackers, sharing bad jokes, music playing in the background, having a bank of conversation starters, they’re all good ways to keep conversation light and flowing. They’re also a good way to engaged your loved ones in the conversation. Try and make the time you all spend eating as enjoyable as possible.

Even once the meal is over make sure everyone isn’t just sitting down doing nothing, it really won’t help them. From my own experience, any bad coping strategies or urges I’d have after eating would usually last about an hour. After Christmas dinner we’d play silly board games for a bit and I found that so helpful. I was able to join in and try and keep my mind off the food I had just consumed. See if you can organised some sort of fun game afterwards or even have a few unopened presents saved for after the meal as a distraction.

Don’t draw attention them

If you spot they’re struggling please don’t go making a big scene about it.

I thankfully never had this happen to me, but I could think of nothing worse than someone making a big song and dance about me struggling and just drawing more attention to me.

I spent Christmas feeling so guilty and ashamed when I had my eating disorder and I know others will feel the same way. Check up on them yes, but do it quietly or in private.

Where possible, give them the heads up

It’s pretty much impossible to escape food at Christmas. But let the people you love know what you’re cooking and if you have any kitchen disasters and the menu changes last second, try to let them know.

There’s so much anxiety and uncertainty around food and spring a meal on them without notice isn’t cool.

Movies are a great escape

Christmas can be very overwhelming and being around so many people and so much food with an eating disorder is exhausting. If you notice them flagging and there’s no way for them to slip away from the crowd, you can always see if everyone is up for a movie.

For me, they provided a much needed break. I knew no one would be watching me, I didn’t have to make conversation with anyone and there would be less food around for me to be worrying about. Watching a film gave me time to recharge my batteries whilst providing a distraction.

This is especially great if it’s already a family tradition

Just be there

Make yourself available for them, be a safe non judgmental person who they can go to if they’re struggling. Don’t dismiss what they’re feeling or going through, don’t guilt them if they don’t eat all of your delicious Christmas dinner. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, do they want you to explain to family member about their eating disorder and to ask that they don’t draw attention to them? Or they may want you to keep it just between you two?

Just being there is so important, but it’s often so overlooked by people.

Bonus mention- Quit the diet talk!

This is mainly for after Christmas and into the new year, but sometimes diet talk can creep into Christmas time.

It is so disrespectful and hurtful to talk about a diet to someone who has an eating disorder. Once in the new year I had someone ask me for diet advice because they wanted to lose weight for their new years resolution… don’t be that person. They knew I suffered from anorexia and I felt so ridiculed by them, in a few words they’d completely dismissed this illness that was slowly killing me.

Don’t talk about weight, calories and diet, it’s just so disrespectful and very triggering.

So there we go, that’s the advice I’d give to someone who is supporting a friend or family member with an eating disorder. Like I said at the start, I’m not a professional. All I can do is share with you what I found helpful and what I wish people had done for me during Christmas time.

I’ve done some searching around the internet and I’ve found a few good websites and charity’s that specialize in either eating disorder support or mental health support. They have a few good articles that people may find helpful, along with support for people.

Beat – They have a small collection of post dedicated to surviving Christmas and they offer some great advice.

Mind – It’s not specific to the Christmas period, but they have an in depth section on how to support someone with an eating disorder.

NEDA – This one is tips for someone who is battling an eating disorder themselves. But it’s a good read for those who are supporting them too.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I know it’s been a while since I’ve approached my history with an eating disorder, but I felt that it was important to bring it up now. If there are any topics or questions you’d want me to answer on here about my time with anorexia and recovery then please do feel to either drop it in the comments or even email me it through my contact me page. It is a topic I want to talk about and raise awareness on, I’m just struggling to find something to talk about beyond me telling you guys how I recovered from anorexia.

Until next time guys, stay safe.

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