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Column: How to get through Christmas if you're recovering from an eating disorder

Christmas is tough if you’re struggling with food issues, writes Cora McEvoy.

Cora McEvoy

I BREATHE IN and get that Christmas feeling. I think about Christmas trees, a roaring fire and home cooking. I look around me and I am happy, sounds of Christmas, happiness and excitement surround me.

17 years ago it was a very different story. 17 years ago I was cold and sad, helpless and hopeless. 17 years ago I was struggling with an eating disorder.

Being around so much food

Christmas can be very hard for those of us who battle food. Being with family and friends was stressful. Being surrounded by food was awful. Those Christmas years of my eating disorder are not happy ones. They were full of dread.

I was stressed, worried and anxious around food. I was stressed, worried and anxious about socialising. This was the time of the year to eat, drink and be merry, but I couldn’t relax and do those thing.

I was so desperately sad underneath it all. I was sad for what I had turned into. I was sad for what I was putting my family and friends through. My anorexia possessed me and ate into the very core of my being. No one understood me, no one could help me. All I used to want for Christmas was to be left alone and for Christmas to go away.

The hardest time of year

I used to huddle by a roaring fire, with layers of clothes and a hat on my head trying to keep warm. I had sores from sitting on my protruding bones and could barely even concentrate on what was on TV. Wanting and willing my mind to stop thinking about food and exercise was impossible.

My thoughts from morning to night were all about food and exercise. I was obsessed. The only time I felt any happiness was in the morning, those few minutes after first waking up. I used to be calm then until my mind was taken over again. I was possessed.

shutterstock_356410439 Source: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

The unfortunate thing about eating disorders is that they affect family and friends as well as the person. The normal Christmas family routine is gone. Everyone tries to keep the same routine, to do the same things but ends up resenting the person with an eating disorder who has changed everything. Families become worried, resentful, frustrated with the person.

Everybody was afraid to talk. They had to ignore the elephant in the room just to keep the peace. My family was living with a stranger. They  couldn’t understand me. They didn’t like me because of my food and exercise obsessed ways.

Navigating the holidays’ food excesses and celebrations 

Christmas was unbearable because everyone would come home to catch up and see what a mess the whole situation was. The frustration everyone felt was because of how helpless they were to help me.

Everything in my life then revolved around control, and the control that I needed to get through each day was even more heightened at Christmas. I would be meeting family and friends I hadn’t seen in ages. There would be remarks made about my weight, my looks and my life.

I would be panicked about how the food on Christmas Day was prepared and how difficult it would be for me to eat. My mind would tell me that the food was poisonous. My mind, body and adrenal system had made me exhausted.

So this Christmas, spare a thought for those you know with an eating disorder about how difficult this time of the year can be with all the fuss about food. The Department of Health and Children estimates that up to 200,000 people in Ireland may be affected by eating disorders. An estimated 400 new cases emerge each year, representing 80 deaths annually.

Reach out for support

According to the Health Research Board (HRB), in 2015 almost 12% of all admissions for under 18s to Irish psychiatric units and hospitals had a primary diagnosis of eating disorders. Females accounted for 87% of all admissions of those affected by eating disorders.

If you have an eating disorder go for a walk or find somebody who will listen to you. I found these two things the most helpful at this food obsessed time of year.

Those bad years do pass. Time moves on. Life changes, we change and we develop the strength within us somehow to fight for life. We learn to enjoy Christmas again.

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, www.bodywhys.ie.

Getting help: What to do if you or someone you know has an eating disorder>

‘An eating disorder is often an incredibly isolating experience’>

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About the author:

Cora McEvoy

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