Christmas Day, December 25, is a deeply meaningful time for many of us. However, some of the typically warm and cosy aspects of this annual Christian event revolve around food and family, and can fill some of us with dread.
If you are feeling bleak and anxious about how you will cope when the family gets together, if you are wondering how to avoid comments that you are eating too much or too little, if you are wondering how to convince your poorly disguised ‘hawk-eyed’ mother, sister or aunt that you are fine, if you are wondering how you will be able to control your urge to binge or starve, and simply get through the day without a panic attack, chances are you have an eating disorder.
For many years, I would fall into a trough of depression in the weeks leading up to Christmas. My nasty eating disorder made sure I felt unhappy with myself – reminding me that another year was about to close, and I had not got myself ‘fixed’. My eating remained out of control, fasting one day, bingeing the next, and my emotions were happy one day, moody the next. In short, I was living only part of a life. The eating disorder dominated the rest.
Of course, nobody could see that I was suffering torment from the eating disorder. I had developed anorexia nervosa in childhood and my illness had transitioned into bulimia nervosa. I looked ‘normal’ and my family expected me to behave normally.
Looks can be awfully deceiving when you have an eating disorder, or are suffering from its near neighbour, disordered eating. If you find you are thinking about food a lot, if you are making ‘food rules’ in a bid to control your anxiety, to get through and manage your day, then you are living only part of your true life. I tried this strategy for years; it was always doomed to fail but I didn’t know any other way; I was caught in that grey area that can be very deceiving for both sufferers and family members. When not suffering directly from anorexia and bulimia, I was in that grey area that is neither here nor there, but definitely not ‘recovered’.
If you are wondering what to purchase for yourself or others, this Christmas, you can’t go wrong (and you may even be instrumental in saving a life) if you choose a book. Not just any book, but one of the titles exploring the topic of eating disorders on bookshop shelves. I encourage you to choose a book with an evidence-base, that is, with content based on science, whether for a person with the illness, or their caregivers. For example, look for content from highly respected eating disorder researchers like Janet Treasure, Ulrike Schmidt, Cynthia Bulik, Daniel LeGrange, Walter Kaye, Mary Tantillo, Glenn Waller, Eric Van Wurth, Lauren Mulheim, Stephen Touyz, and Tracey Wade. ‘Experts by experience’ authors, whether through caregiving or healing from the illness, include Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, Harriet Brown, Carrie Arnold, Jenni Schaefer, Aimee Liu and Nicola Davies.
The year I turned 21, some gifts of books by any of these authors would have been very helpful. Almost five decades ago! That was the year I was getting married and ‘Ed’ the eating disorder was determined to walk down the church aisle with my husband, George, and me. George would have found the advice shared by these authors to be a comfort, I am sure, in understanding me, in helping me to ward off the horrid eating disorder thoughts.
As it was, at that point, neither of us knew any science about eating disorders. If we had access to the literature available today, we could have found a quiet corner and started to read the books immediately. What’s more, with George’s support, I would have started to feel better, immediately. Just to know that I was not weak, that yep, I had an illness, and that we could learn skills to help overcome it. Especially if we worked together. Wow, that knowledge would have meant a lot.
Knowledge is power when recovering from an eating disorder. The main thing is to never, ever give up. Every little positive thing you do, every time you reach out, is one step closer to regaining your healthy self.
In case you are unsure about yourself, or a friend, or family member, some common warning signs and symptoms of an eating disorder include:
It is silly really – outlandish, maddening – to think that the eating disorder deceives us in this manner. Food is only food. Food does not have feelings. We have feelings, and we need to focus on them, and our relationships, and then the food will take care of itself.
Staying in touch with our healthy self and staying in touch with others who have our best interests at heart, is the best insurance against those sneaky eating disorder, or disordered eating, thoughts.
Settle for nothing less than a full recovery, don’t settle for a part life with the eating disorder. Know that you can recover fully and have a more balanced and content life. This is my wish for you this Christmas.
If you would like to explore using writing as a healing tool to assist with the recovery of your healthy self, or to manage your eating disorder, reach out.