ED through a male perspective.
Having suffered with Anorexia for a number of years, Christmas was always an apprehensive time of year for me and I am sure many readers of this article may feel the same way. During the height of my suffering, the day saw more time spent with family where relationships were strained and of course the dread of Christmas lunch.
It wasn’t just the day itself that was problematic, but the whole month of December. In the build up to Christmas, I would exhibit behaviours that were challenging for the people closest to me to deal with and it caused worry for all for a number of years whilst I was able to take control of my illness.
My struggles with Anorexia and the behaviour I had exhibited in the build-up had made this a really challenging time for everyone and something that I was quite worried about for some years before I was able to take control again and embrace one of the now highlights of the year for me.
During the period of my eating disorder struggles, Christmas for me had turned away from the religious event and into just time off work/the daily routine, family time and of course food which, for many, has become such a large part of Christmas with most of the family eyeing up their 2nd plate before the first plate is finished. I always felt a lack of understanding (this wasn’t true) from others. Therefore, the thought of a day sitting round a table surrounded by food for longer than normal was daunting. It would unsettle me mentally and lead to high levels of anxiety. At the most socially acceptable time to leave, or when my parents simply couldn’t keep me in any longer, I would run away from my support network to people that didn’t know my story at the time. I was giving up something for nothing without even realising until years down the line.
Anxiety is real and it’s not fun as we lose control of our emotions and allow our mind to take us to a dark and scary place. These emotions often allowed some of the best parts of Christmas to be taken away from me and the return of a daily routine or at least removing myself away from my perceived view of Christmas was something I personally strived for, with a desperation for the day to move on. As many of you will know, I think the time can often allow your mind to run away from you and somehow, I always managed to convince myself that it was going to be much worse than it actually ever was.
Turning to the meal itself, I have only recently returned my roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings to the main plate and allowed them to touch the gravy, but I have been confident enough to openly tell people this which has made me realise that actually nobody really cares. I have loved getting involved in some of the cooking and baking and really being part of a special day. The plus side now is I have a real say in what is cooked, how it is cooked and tailor this to ensure this is a meal I look forward to more than any others in the calendar year.
More generally, I have found that the ability and confidence to talk about your past eating disorder helps to normalise my current eating habits. During these discussions, it has often led to those without any history of an eating disorder sharing their own quirky ways of eating things.
Christmas is now a time I fully embrace, partly down to my religious beliefs, but also to the fact I am back in control of my eating habits and able to talk through any anxieties. I ensure the main day is set up in a way that works for me and I enjoy time away from work to rest without the anxiety I have experienced in the past.
Whilst writing this post, I have reflected on past Christmas’ and what I would have done differently if I could rewind the clock and thought that others may find the below tips useful for navigating Christmas this year. Christmas is no longer ruined for me by a simple food mishap and hopefully this
- Family and friends are there for you and want to help – can you let them in this Christmas.
- Try and look at Christmas through a different lens in the build-up – this positive thinking will allow you to enter the period in a hopefully a different headspace!
- Embrace the Christmas meal and tailor it to suit yourself – why can’t you have more of something that works for you and less of something that doesn’t on your plate.
- Keep your mind busy and try not to let in wonder by being more present in the moment – this might be through an early morning walk or actively playing a role in the hosting.
- Is this the time to invest in deeper relationships with those around you and build those bonds.
- Talking makes everything easier – can we be more confident to just have a discussion with someone about your eating disorder at this year?