Christmas is a time of year most people are crazily excited about… it often seems the only ones who aren’t are those with family difficulties and those who have suffered a loss. But there’s also a group that tries to stay unseen over Christmas and so gets overlooked:
While often forgotten, people with eating disorders, disordered eating and/or body image issues can really struggle at Christmas.
Food is pushed front and centre not just on December 25th, but in the month leading up to it – mince pies, chocolate and treats flood the office, mulled wine is everywhere, party invites and dinners and drinks keep coming… and then again afterwards right up until New Year. Not to mention all the chocolates that get gifted that lie around for ages into January and February…
And people talk NON STOP about how calories don’t count at Christmas, how they’ll ‘be good’ in January, how much turkey they plan to eat…
There’s so much loaded language around ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food (remember: no food is good or bad or intrinsically moral – there are foods that are more and less nutrient dense) and this dialogue is normally pretty constant. At Christmas it can go into overdrive.
If you suffer (or have previously suffered) with EDs, disordered eating or body image issues you will know what a toll Christmas can take on your mental health and how difficult it can be to not only have so much public focus on food, but constant commentary on what you eat (or choose not to eat):
- “Go on, it’s Christmas!”
- “Have another one, go onnnnn!”
- “Don’t you like mince pies?”
- “Calories don’t count at Christmas, you can burn it off in the new year!”
- “You’re tiny, what are you talking about! Have some!”
- “Please finish those off so that I don’t, I’m trying to be good.”
- “Oh no, I’m being good now so I can go crazy on Christmas day!”
- “Why aren’t you drinking?”
- “If you’re not hungry, just have a piece of cake, it’s amazing!”
- “It’s nice to see you finally eat something!”
- “I’ve never seen you eat that much!”
The list goes on, and on. And what seems innocent on the surface can actually be at best, a bit stressful, and at worst, quite traumatic.
So this is a plea from someone who has been there, stressed, eaten and made her self sick at Christmas – please don’t say the above, or the below.
Please don’t comment on other peoples’ food choices.
Please don’t ask why someone isn’t drinking, or is eating that.
Please don’t comment on how much or little people are eating.
Not at home, not at the office, not to friends or family.
If you are concerned about someone, there’s a serious conversation to be had, but that is very different from “oh you shouldn’t be dieting over Christmas!” or “why aren’t you having any of this…?”
Those comments aren’t productive. They can trigger people, make them anxious and encourage damaging behavior, entrenching already-difficult beliefs and emotions about peoples’ relationships with food and their bodies.
If you need to understand more about eating disorders, check out these pages on eating problems at Mind.
For now, though, just be compassionate, and respect that food is personal. Don’t pile on pressure and stress by constantly referencing it – EDs and disordered eating aren’t always visible, and you never know who’s listening.