Eating disorders are a highly stigmatised mental illnesses which are largely misunderstood. Beat charity works with people with eating disorders and is now the leading charity in the field. They aim to support 43,000 people a year.
Eating disorders can take on complex forms of behaviour, but usually involve an unhealthy relationship with food. It is important to remember though, that eating disorders are about more than just food, they are about feelings. The way someone interacts with food may make them feel more able to cope, or may make them feel in control.
Often anxieties or traumas can materialise in a range of other behaviours such as irritation or upset, it is important to be patient with people suffering from eating disorders, especially at this time of year when their experiences may be exacerbated. It is important to be mindful of what support might mean in these circumstances, for your loved one it could just be kindness, understanding or a listening ear.
We are often quick to associate Christmas with food and excess, but for people with eating disorders, it can be helpful to emphasise other christmas traditions to draw away the focus from the dinner table, such as decorating the house in a festive style.
We spoke to Beat’s Director of Services, Caroline Price about the significance of eating disorders, especially at this time of the year:
“The Christmas period can be extremely difficult for people with all kinds of eating disorder. The pressure to eat large amounts can be triggering for people with binge eating disorder and bulimia, as well as causing anxiety for people with anorexia.
“People with eating disorders often try to hide their illness and at Christmas when eating is a social occasion – often with people who they do not see frequently – they may feel ashamed and want to isolate themselves from others.
“At the same time, Christmas can be a source of distress for families who are caring for someone with an eating disorder.
“All these pressures can be made more difficult as the normal support networks are often not available at Christmas, as friends may be away and regular social activities close for the holidays. Anyone worried about their own or someone else’s health can contact Beat’s Helplines, which will be open every day over the Christmas period, from 4pm – 8pm from 24 December to 1 January.”