Christmas can be 'triggering' for eating-disorder sufferers

With Christmas revolving around food, it can cause extra pressure. [Photo: Getty]

Christmas can trigger problems for people with eating disorders, a charity has warned.

The UK organisation Beat is cautioning many anorexia and bulimia sufferers feel under pressure to eat “normally” over the festive period.

With Christmas celebrations often revolving around food, patients can endure anxiety, shame and isolation.

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“The pressure to eat large amounts can be triggering for people with binge-eating disorder and bulimia, as well as causing anxiety for people with anorexia,” Caroline Price, director of services at Beat, said.

“People with eating disorders often try to hide their illness and at Christmas, when eating is a social occasion - often with people who they do not see frequently - they may feel ashamed and want to isolate themselves from others.”

Around 1.25 million people in the UK are thought to have an eating disorder, Beat statistics show. Of which, three quarters are female.

In the US, at least 30 million people suffer, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

Beat and the NHS have released guidelines to support people with eating disorders over the holidays.

Advice includes serving food at buffets rather than sit-down meals, organising games or films after dinner, and informing guests not to bring up weight or appetite.

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“Living with an eating disorder is a constant struggle but Christmas can be particularly challenging, with an increased focus on food, drink and big get-togethers,” Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS associate clinical director for children and young people's mental health, said.

“[And] the added pressure of new year resolutions and the bombardment of weight-loss messaging is just around the corner.

“Helping families manage these conditions at home can be crucial and hopefully these tips will really make a difference.”

Katie, who is in recovery from an eating disorder, claims Christmas was “incredibly hard” while she battled the condition.

“Eating disorders don't break for Christmas, and it's important people appreciate those close to them may struggle with the festivities, and need to take it more slowly and be supported,” she said.

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Mental health minister Nadine Dorries has welcomed the new guidance.

“Christmas is a holiday associated with family meals and indulging, so it's understandable people living with an eating disorder can find it a hard and triggering time,” she said.

“It's so important families support each other and take a moment to look at the guidance, and ensure those struggling can still enjoy the festive season.”