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'Increased access to "comfort foods" during Christmas sent my eating disorder into overload'

I’d consider myself recovered from my eating disorder, but with Christmas almost here I’m getting anxious, writes Jodie Kenny.

Jodie Kenny See Change Ambassador

WHEN MANY PEOPLE hear Christmas, food is one of the first things that comes to mind: the festive themed foods and drinks, the build up to Christmas dinner, the tins of sweets around the house.

There’s no shortage of it, and it begins to fill the shops in early November. For many people this is fantastic, it’s a sort of gingerbread and cinnamon filled paradise.

However for people who are currently struggling with eating disorders, or who have recovered, this can be a source of anxiety. Dealing with such big quantities of food and the expectation to eat can often hinder recovery or even cause relapses. Not to mention the stress of finances, gift shopping and socialising.

Stress is a huge trigger for eating disorders, so this season can really be a minefield.

Culture of overeating

There’s a culture of overeating at Christmas, with people having several course meals and constantly snacking on sweets and chocolates.

Last Christmas I was at the height of my eating disorder, and it was incredibly stressful. I struggled with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), an incredibly common but underdiagnosed eating disorder due to lack of awareness in society. The increased access to “comfort foods” during a period of heightened stress sent my eating disorder into overload.

Over the holidays last year I went through several vicious cycles of bingeing and restricting, with food almost constantly dominating my thoughts. Nausea was almost permanently present, either from bingeing or from the guilt and shame I felt that I was unable to control my own eating habits.

This same guilt and shame stopped me from reaching out to others, which was probably my biggest mistake, as I dealt with BED alone.

Stress creeping back in

This year as the holiday fast approaches, I can feel the stress creeping back in, and the fear that it will cause a relapse. I’d consider myself recovered from BED for the better part of a year now, but with Christmas almost here I can’t help but get anxious.

The difference is this year people know about my struggles with BED and I now have ways I can deal with it. The support and awareness from others makes a huge difference and can make the entire process much easier. It’s the main thing I wish I did differently when I think of last year – I should have let others know I was struggling. It would have made everything a lot easier.

If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, recovered, or still struggling daily, then please take precautions and look after yourself during this holiday season. Let others know how you’re feeling, come up with plans to deal with potentially stressful situations, be careful of falling into old habits, and mind your mental health.

Don’t beat yourself up

Remember that there are so many non-food related activities at Christmas, so arrange some of those to bring festive cheer into your days. Most importantly, if you do find yourself falling into old habits, then be kind to yourself. Identify what’s caused this, how you can prevent it in the future and what you can do to help yourself in that moment.

Beating yourself up won’t get you anywhere, self-compassion is a hard but necessary lesson to learn. It’s supposed to be a time of joy, so don’t let your eating disorder take too much away from that.

Jodie Kenny is a final year Nanotechnology student with a strong passion for raising awareness about mental health. She spends a lot of her spare time volunteering; she is a See Change Ambassador, a Bodywhys youth advisor, and a member of her local Jigsaw Youth Advisory Panel.

See Change is Ireland’s national stigma reduction partnership. You can find out more about See Change at seechange.ie. Bodywhys is the national voluntary organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders. Their eating disorders Helpline is LoCall 1890 200 444 and for their website see, bodywhys.ie.

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About the author:

Jodie Kenny  / See Change Ambassador

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