PHOTO: Katarina Wolnik Vera
Text: Alejandra Misiolek
Christmas, for most people, involves being with family and eating. These two things can be a very significant trigger for the symptoms of an eating disorder. Why?
Being with family for many people means seeing people we haven’t seen in a long time. The first thing people see before talking to us is our body and for a person with an eating disorder it generates many emotions to think about how others can perceive their bodies. In addition, our relatives sometimes do not hesitate to comment on our bodies and this can greatly affect a person who is very conscious of their appearance. There are families that pay special attention to the bodies, both their own and that of others. This can generate many intense and difficult emotions to manage. In addition, people with eating disorders tend to “manage” their emotions through food, which is the beginning of a vicious cycle.
On the other hand, being with the family implies reliving certain situations that remind us of childhood patterns. It can be especially triggering and cause strong emotions to relive precisely the situations that remind us of the things that have hurt us or that have contributed to our eating disorder. Among such situations are, for example, that our limits have been violated, that we are not taken into account, that we are not listened to, that there are expectations about what we should be like or that we are not respected.
Apart from the family itself, there is the food. Christmas implies constant exposure to food that is usually tasty rather than nutritious and that consists of all these foods that a person with an eating disorders tends to fear and/or binge on. This can be a trigger for another binge or a lot of discomfort from having to restrict or purge and without anyone noticing. If we add to all this that there are families that are involved in the daughter’s ED, all eyes will be directed towards her eating. Being so exposed also creates a lot of strong emotions and can trigger reaching for food to calm them down.
With all this, people who have eating disorders, several weeks before Christmas, can be emotionally removed, anxious, try to restrict to prepare and just fall into binge eating, which generates even more anxiety about gaining weight and being judged. Christmas is definitely a difficult period for someone with an eating disorder.
I am going to give you some advice on the best things to avoid doing (always!) and especially with someone with an eating disorder.
What not to do to people with eating disorders (at Christmas or ever):
- Don´t comment on other people’s bodies and above all, don´t make references to whether they have gained or lost weight.
- Don´t compliment the body as if it were a fact because this is your opinion. And also this opinion may not interest the other person.
- Don´t insist that people eat, or make comments that they should stop eating.
- Don´t stare at how other people eat.
- Don´t comment on how much you have eaten and on the need to go on a diet.
- Don´t make judgments about food and don’t categorize food into good or bad. Don´t comment that certain types of food are junk food. These terms are relative and for a person with eating disorders it can be an achievement to allow themselves to eat something for pleasure, even if it is not “healthy”.
- Don´t fall into seeing thin as positive and fat as negative.