'I would probably rather sit at the table naked than eat in front of people' - Christmas one of the most difficult times of the year for eating disorder sufferers
PUBLISHED: 11:06 10 December 2017 | UPDATED: 13:33 10 December 2017
It is a time when we are encouraged to overindulge in food and drink and the pressure is on to have the perfect Christmas Day.
But the festive season can be challenging for those with eating disorders, who can be left feeling isolated and anxious around the holiday.
Christina Taylor, from Norwich, was diagnosed with anorexia when she was just 13.
Now 32, she is encouraging others to take any help they are offered and speak to those around them to make the period manageable.
Christina, an underwriter at Aviva, said: “I find Christmas extremely difficult as I was diagnosed with anorexia in December - which is also when my birthday is. All the foods, traditions and pretty much everything to do with the season puts me on edge.”
Mother-of-two Christina said Christmas reminded her of when she was at her lowest. She said: “I would probably rather sit at the table naked than eat in front of people.”
Other Christmas traditions such as work meals and treats being brought into the office had also had an effect.
“Every day there’s more food coming into the office and people talk about mince pies and hot chocolate.”
She added: “I feel totally isolated as every social occasion is about food and it has always been a huge trigger for me.”
But this year Christina has organised her office Christmas meal as she’d become more comfortable. And at home, her family - including husband Christian and children five-year-old Zoey and three-year-old Ryan - had changed the way they celebrated to make Christina feel at ease.
She said: “Most years I have just struggled through, feeling like an outsider even at family events, but last year, my husband and I decided to start our own traditions and we just stay home with my children and I eat whatever makes me feel comfortable.
“It was the first time in the last 19 years that I’ve sat at a Christmas dinner table and not felt pressure or anxiety or like anyone was watching what I was doing, and as a result, I enjoyed Christmas Day for the first time since I was a child.”
Her advice to anyone going through similar anxieties this Christmas was to talk to family and friends.
“I know it’s really hard to admit,” she said. “But if people know there could be a problem they will be more respectful.”
She added: “Whatever you eat is enough, you’ve done enough, you’ve done well and you can sit with your friends and family even if you don’t eat with them.”
Caroline Price, director of services for Norwich-based eating disorder charity Beat, said although Christmas is meant to be a happy time, it can cause problems from those with eating disorders.
She said: “A lot of the focus is around food, eating together, there’s a lot of it around.”
She said this could be challenging for people with anorexia, who may struggle to eat, but also for those with bulimia or who binge eat.
“You also get people commenting on how someone looks or how much they’re eating, like a well-meaning aunt you maybe haven’t seen all year.”
The pressure of watching each other eat or straying from a structured eating plan were also of concern, she said. A simple move to changing to buffet-style serving rather than a sit down family meal could make things easier. Ms Price said: “It’s about communicating about what works for that family - which could mean that family can spend Christmas Day together.”
Where to access help
Over Christmas, Beat will be offering help to those with eating disorders and their families - including on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.
Their helpline is open 3pm to 10pm every day, and from 6pm to 10pm on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Director of services Caroline Price said the later opening time came after feedback from service users.
“By that time, family may have left or fallen asleep on the sofa,” she said.
Call the freephone helpline on 0808 801 0677 or 0808 801 0711 for the youthline.
The charity will also be operating one-to-one live chats, group chats, and message boards.
The group chats - with different groups for different disorders - will run from 7pm to 8.30pm, with one for families from 6pm to 7pm.