It’s hard to imagine Christmas Day without the beloved turkey dinner perfected by ham, Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes but for those with an eating disorder it’s hard to imagine anything worse.
Figures from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence suggest that 1.6 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, a figure that is up 15% since 2000.
It is estimated that 10% of sufferers are anorexic, 40% are bulimic and the rest fall into the EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified) category, including those with a binge eating disorder.
One person who knows just how tough Christmas can be is 19 year old Louise Maye from Dublin.
“Christmas dinner is always awful and although it’s just one dinner, there’s just so much anxiety about it because you feel guilty for not eating it but you feel so guilty when you do,” she explains.
Food is pretty much unavoidable at Christmas. You turn on the TV or open a magazine and you’re greeted with adverts featuring succulent turkeys, yummy puddings and delicious mince pies.
She added: “Even when you’re not around food, you’re thinking about it. You can’t get away from it, and on normal days that’s bad enough.”
Louise describes her experience last Christmas as “awful”. Her eating disorder made her incredibly “sneaky” and left her feeling very “anxious”.
“I would always have a napkin with me to ‘wipe my mouth’ but would really be spitting out food, and one of my relatives picked up on it. She called me out about it straight away and my whole family became very aware about my eating disorder then.
“They watched me for the rest of the day and I couldn’t go to the bathroom to purge because someone would always be around me,” she says.
She adds: “I felt so hopeless because Christmas is supposed to be this extremely happy time but for me I just felt so upset.”
Louise was diagnosed with bulimia in early 2012 following a long childhood battle with binge eating and is now in recovery.
She admits that she spent the first six months of recovery in “complete denial”, continually making herself sick and lying about it to everyone around her; she even left college because things got so bad.
However things are finally looking up for Louise. “Now I’m back in college and things are going well. Recovery is a long process, and although I am technically recovered, there are days I still question what I’m eating.
“You think that everything will be solved when your collarbones jut out and you have a thigh gap, but no matter what you look like, you are still you with the same problems you started with.
“You are technically destroying your body for a peace of mind you are never going to get. It is so hard sometimes and you have to keep fighting, but it’s so worth it,” she says.
Moya White, 52 is a Freelance Dietitian in Kent who has specialized in eating disorders for the past 30 years and understands how stressful Christmas can be for people like Louise.
“Christmas is a time when we celebrate with food and there is often an excess of food around which these patients find hard. Stress makes eating disorder patients more likely to eat less or more depending on their problem,” she said.
She advises those with bulimia to have a “healthy, balanced diet” but would urge them not to have snacks around the house which could tempt them to binge.
“The sooner people get help the better the outcome”, she added. Those suffering with eating disorders can seek help from GPs, school nurses or from b-eat, a charity.
B-eat are based in the UK and aim to change the way people think about eating disorders and to improve the way services and treatment are provided to sufferers.
They want to help anyone believe that their eating disorder can be beaten by providing support and encouragement for people to seek treatment and recovery.
B-eat is also a forum where fellow suffers can come together, offer each other advice and feel comfortable talking to someone else who knows what they are going through.
Anna, 20, from Devon has anorexia but believes it is important for fellow sufferers to see Christmas as a “day off”.
“Everyone will have a Christmas every year for the rest of their lives, and so it is something that is part of our lives, not part of the anorexia.
“It is vital that Christmas doesn’t become a day of food terror, but rather, a day to celebrate love, family and friends,” she explains.
Lauren, 24, from Scotland will be spending her first Christmas free from anorexia this year and she plans to make the most of it.
“I remember refusing point blank to eat the Christmas food my mum had lovingly prepared. I skipped many Christmas parties and refused to go out with friends because of the fear and anxieties I had”, she says.
Food is a massive part of Christmas in Annabelle’s family. The 24 year old from London is now recovered and thankful she can finally enjoy all aspects of the holiday.
“Thankfully now I am recovered I can almost enjoy the ‘food’ side as much as the catching up with everyone, buying presents, carol singing and decorations,” she explains.
Christmas is a time to be with the ones you love, relax and be merry.
If you are suffering with an eating disorder this holiday season, beat it – don’t let it beat you. For more information or to seek help visit http://www.b-eat.co.uk/