How to support someone with an eating disorder over Christmas
Offer support for loved ones with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge-eating around Christmas – the festive period can be triggering.
Beat and the NHS have warned that the emphasis on food, drink and socialising over Christmas can put extra pressure on those with eating disorders, causing intense anxiety.
Caroline Price, director of services at Beat, said: ‘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.’
The eating disorder charity and the NHS have released new guidance for helping someone struggling over the festive period and making Christmas less stressful.
Small tweaks, such as offering food buffet style rather than a sit-down dinner, can make a world of difference and help someone enjoy the festivities without panicking about food.
It’s worth spreading this guidance around to all members of the family. Relatives might think nothing of complimenting someone on weight loss – letting them know this could be upsetting will prevent any awkwardness.
Easy ways to make Christmas easier for someone with an eating disorder:
- Serve food as a buffet rather than as sit-down meals
- Minimise the social expectations of people with eating disorders over the festive season
- Treat meals on and around Christmas Day as routinely as possible
- Plan well ahead and think about how food features in your days
- Once dinner is over, shift the focus to other activities like playing games or watching a family film
- Make loved ones aware to avoid questions about weight or appetite
Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS associate clinical director for children and young people’s mental health, said: ‘Living with an eating disorder is a constant struggle but Christmas can be particularly challenging, with an increased focus on food, drink and big get-togethers, while the added pressure of new year resolutions and the bombardment of weight-loss messaging is just around the corner.
‘Helping families manage these conditions at home can be crucial and hopefully these tips will really make a difference.’
From 24 December to 1 January, Beat’s Helplines will be open every day from 4pm-8pm. Anyone in need of support can get in contact via phone, email, anonymous one-to-one webchat or social media messaging.
The Beat Helpline can be reached on 0808 801 0677, or there is a dedicated Youthline for under-18s on 0808 801 0711.The online support groups and one-to-one webchat can be accessed on beateatingdisorders.org.uk.
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