Christmas with an eating disorder… tips for family & friends

As someone who suffered from eating disorders for the best part of 13 or 14 years, family gatherings and celebrations, pretty much anything that centred around food and or a break in my routine, were some of the toughest and most testing times, both for me and my family.

Looking back I have far more unfavourable memories of family gatherings than I have heartening so rather than dwell on the past I prefer to focus on and appreciate how far I’ve come, the simplicity of simply coming together at these times, feeling present, relaxed and truly immersed in my surroundings.

I’m looking forward to creating fonder memories, but the feelings of anxiety and distress, the internal pressure to perform, be joyous and “normal” for at least one day are still a little difficult to distance myself from entirely.

The vast majority of social occasions, particularly this time of year tend to revolve around food. Even for those people that don’t suffer from eating disorders approach with caution for fear that their efforts to create a healthy lifestyle will be derailed. The difference for someone with an eating disorder is that it isn’t just one day, or a short holiday season. “Just eating” like everyone else, even just for one day, truly feels comparable to throwing yourself off a bridge.


You’re torn between your desire to people please and your insurmountable endeavours to maintain a self constructed safe bubble of “perfection”. Giving in to the temptation of the “norm” could surely only lead you down a path of destruction and uncontrollable chaos!!??

What I realise now was that it really wasn’t about food. The logical side of me knew this to some extent but every effort at the time to turn off the destructive internal voice went unnoticed, the fight in me just wasn’t strong enough.

Controlling food was my way of keeping a tight reign on my emotions, creating a tough outer shell that no one could penetrate, as well as providing a means for me to block out my own internal battle of self acceptance. I didn’t love myself, I couldn’t love others, and I felt at my most uncomfortable in social situations.

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Sticking to a rigid routine also gave me a sense of achievement and purpose, something which when considered in terms of my future aspirations created mountains of sheer anxiety and worry.  I felt a sense of superiority for abstaining from food, the temptation around me, while at the same time envied my family and friends ability to enjoy the pleasures for what they were and simply move on from them.

It’s really important for friends and family to make a conscious effort to set an example. We live in a society that advocates restriction and feelings of guilt around food.  In hindsight in the depths of my illness and during my recovery there was far too much emphasis put upon how I shouldn’t feel about food as opposed to focusing on and reinforcing the positive elements of nourishment, pleasure and sustenance. My underlying passion and love for food was scorned as supporting such an interest was seen to be aiding the illness and my obsessive tendencies.

I know my own mother was at times guilty of taking things personally, feeling her efforts in the kitchen had gone to waste, were unnoticed and unappreciated. Yes there were times when I was completely oblivious to my own surroundings but more often than not that internal battle was made even harder with the additional weight of self-condemnation knowing the hurt I had caused and was likely to continue to create. Remember it’s not you, or the food, and the person you are now dealing with is not well, their actions and emotions are a consequence and symptom of their eating disorder.

Avoid focusing on the person that is unwell as indirectly you are giving attention to the eating disorder. Any comments based on their appearance or how thin they look are unlikely to be received in the manner intended but rather reinforcing the sense of superiority and achievement.

All too often get-togethers and celebrations become so built up which of course then filters down and is buttressed by people in our own close knit circles. They have both bought into this idealised vision of the perfect festive season and they too put pressure on themselves to recreate.

Remember it’s only one meal, one Christmas, make the most of the current situation and move on from it. There will hopefully be future years full of joy and happiness. Don’t give up hope, if you do then what hope is there for the person trapped in their own path of self destruction. You need to continually shine the light in the hope that they will see it at the end of the tunnel.

I went through many years of never thinking I would ever achieve full recovery. My warped mind had forgotten what it felt like to live without an eating disorder, and an even bigger part of me didn’t want to know, I didn’t want to let go.

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It took longer than expected… I never managed to find the magic pill I so desperately sought on many an occasion, but I eventually found myself, dug deep and allowed for growth in every sense of the word. My efforts to freeze time were futile and frankly quite exhausting.

Of course my family and friends made mistakes along the way, they are and you are only human. It’s all part of the process, one which I hope has the same effect on yours as it did mine, bringing us closer together, more open and honest than I thought imaginable, stronger and more appreciative of the little things, particularly on those days when people have a tendency to get distracted on a mission to create an idealised version of what they “should be”, and how they “should feel”.

Make the most of what you have and the situation you are in today… it might sound overly simplistic but it’s a straightforward sentiment that removes the inherent desire of a loved one to fix the person close to them with an eating disorder, while at the same time ensuring they, you, are the optimum example of living in the now, a place they need to find their way back to.

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