Mental Health

Eating Disorders

By Elisha Jones

Image taken from Google Images

Now that the Christmas period is over and we are settling into the new year, a lot of people take this time to set goals and reflect on the previous year. Many people think about all the food that was consumed over Christmas as they settle back into their normal eating routines. But for someone with an eating disorder the focus around food creates a really triggering time of year for an eating disorder (ED) sufferer.

Christmas is a triggering time of the year for people suffering with eating disorders due to the amount of focus there is on food. Then there is the added stress and talk of diets and weight loss in the new year, especially in the media. 

Eating disorders can affect anyone, and there are hundreds of charities out there to help. Personalised Eating Disorder Support (or PEDS) is a Peterborough based charity, set up in April 2013. 

Mandy Scott, Co-Founder of PEDS said: “Sue Rattle (also a Registered Nurse) and I set up the charity in 2014 with the aim of supporting the local community in understanding eating disorders, raising awareness, and providing early intervention support to sufferers and their loved ones.” 

Mandy said: “Our eating disorder charity has seen a huge surge (around a 500% increase) in referrals during the COVID pandemic however Christmas is a particularly triggering time.”

“We usually see an increase in people coming for help in January as they have realised how much the eating disorder has dominated Christmas or they have had family and friends notice their difficulties and encouraged them to seek help.”

“There is also the pressure on sufferers to want to appear normal and they may try to hide their eating disorder through guilt or shame, or because they do not want to worry loved ones.” 

People in recovery also struggle during this time, as they are learning how to manage their ED, however, it doesn’t just go away. The voice can come back, and they start to worry about what to wear, what to eat whilst trying to stay in control and comments from family members.

Mandy said: “i.e., ‘you’re looking well’ to someone trying to recover from an eating disorder is often interpreted as ‘you’re looking fat’”. 

In an anonymous questionnaire sent out by Frigid Mag, 53% of people admitted they struggled with food around Christmas, one comment relating to the above, saying: “people watching you eat and commenting on your appearance.”

Many people battle with their anxieties around Christmas eating, and about how it will affect their physical appearance. The diet industry plays a massive part in the fear mongering around festive weight gain, and this culture which makes people worry about enjoying the holiday food is very unhealthy. 

As soon as it hits the 26th, diet adverts come out in force, on the TV, social media, and in stores. There’s no escape. The media encourages people to start fresh for the new year, making it seem like the only way you can do this is to lose weight. 

Another person said of the ‘new year, new me’ trends, “Its a yearly cycle of the Christmas binge, followed by the January pressure to change.” Is what causes them difficulties with food during the festive period.

81% of people who answered the questionnaire said that they worried about gaining weight at Christmas and 52% of them agreed that it does affect the way that they eat. 

Supporting someone with an eating disorder at this time is very important. Keeping Christmas, a stress free, relaxed time and continuing this atmosphere into the new year will help to keep a person suffering from feeling too anxious. 

Mandy said: “Helping the sufferer to realise the eating disorder does not define them as a person can be helpful and arranging things to do that are not eating disorder related whilst being mindful to talk about normal day to day things.”

If you suffer from an eating disorder, reminding yourself that January’s toxic diet culture all stems from marketing. Businesses want you to buy their products without having to think of the consequences. 

Focusing on positive goals, or new year’s resolutions rather than falling into the same trap, (easier said than done), make your 2022 aim to start a new hobby rather than lose 5lb or to smile more rather than cut out carbs, it will make your new year a lot less stressful. 

Reaching out and speaking to someone is the first step, it is also the hardest. PEDS offer an initial assessment which can be done via self-referral or through a professional. They can arrange a treatment plan, helping you to understand the eating disorder, setting goals, meal support and exposure and many other exercises which could help.

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