Newbridge

Coping with Christmas: our specialists provide advice and guidance

PREPARATION

It may be helpful to begin by acknowledging how different members of the family feel about Christmas including their fears, concerns and hopes. For a person with an eating disorder, there may be raised anxiety about the abundance of rich food during Christmas, the Christmas meal itself and the need to eat together with relatives or large groups. It is important also for parents to try to acknowledge and share their feelings around Christmas. Parents may feel under pressure to create a ‘perfect’ day or feel very emotional about how the eating disorder is likely to impact upon the whole family’s Christmas experience. Social media and the pressure it creates for both parents and teenagers to be seen to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas can be harmful.

During these discussions, these steps may be useful:

RELATIVES

A significant aspect of Christmas is the emphasis upon getting together with relatives and friends. From the perspective of a young person with an eating disorder, this may be very challenging. If they have not seen relatives for several months or longer, they may feel anxious simply about seeing them and particularly about comments they may make (however well meaning). An individual with an eating disorder is likely to feel particularly anxious about eating with people who they do not share meals with on a regular basis.

These concerns and issues can become a source of conflict: the young person with an eating disorder may have strong views on what they feel they can and cannot cope with while other family members may feel your Christmas should not be dominated by the eating disorder. These steps may be useful:

THE CHRISTMAS MEAL

It is very helpful to discuss and agree portions and strategies in advance. At Newbridge House, we have a Christmas meal early in December. This helps young people prepare and we also share portion sizes (weights and photographs) with the families we work with. It is worth considering, for example, how will you organise your Christmas meal, what might help?

“I think it is really important to prepare and make a plan for Christmas with your loved one, then to be prepared for your plan to go off course. Try to be flexible and be aware of your own expectations; it is probably better to lower them a little. If your teenager needs some time out in their own room it may be better to allow that than to have a big fight. My daughter is in recovery from anorexia and certainly has issues with food still, but she loves Christmas. She loves the traditions and as she moves into her early twenties, she really values the time together with family and that certainly outweighs the food anxieties, even though they are still there.”
– Parent of young person who was treated for anorexia at Newbridge House

If you are struggling to cope with Christmas and want to talk to someone, we recommend you call the Beat helpline. This is run by trained specialists and Beat is the national charity dedicated to supporting people with eating disorders and all those affected by them. Their helpline is open on Christmas Day. The Helpline number is 0808 801 0677 or 0808 801 0711 for the Youthline. On Christmas Day, the lines are open from 6pm to 10pm and on all other days, including Boxing Day, they are open 3pm to 10pm.

This article was compiled by Samantha Grigg, dietitian, Newbridge House, Rachel Matthews, clinical manager, Newbridge House, Professor Hubert Lacey, Medical Director, Newbridge House and a parent of a young person who was treated for anorexia at Newbridge House. December 13th, 2016.