It was Christmas 2000. We were all gathering at my sister’s house for our Christmas celebration. This Christmas celebration, like most, involved food. There was time carved out just for food before we opened presents. It felt like it was this huge deal, this meal, which made my anxiety skyrocket.
The tree was beautifully decorated, and there were presents spilling out from beneath its branches. It was a freshly cut tree, so it’s smell faintly drifted throughout the house. The sound of children running around and playing filled the house and echoed through its halls. To the outsider, everything was perfect.
Ever since I developed anorexia years before, I hadn’t been participating in the food portion of the celebration. I sat in the other room while everyone else ate. This caused comments, only not of concern, but of mocking and anger and the gulf between me and everyone else grew wider each holiday. They didn’t understand me and I couldn’t make them understand.
The holiday season is often viewed as a time of joy, of love, of rejoicing, of family. It is also a time where people often gather together and share meals, and that is not easy when you have an eating disorder. Even more difficult when those you share your life with do not understand your disease. Whether you overeat or undereat, the holidays can be stressful.
As a person with an eating disorder, I grasp that it is difficult to understand anorexia and easy to see it as simply a refusal to eat. Translating the truth, getting others to understand, is not so easy a task.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there are a few things you can do to help make it through this difficult time, or at least attempt to ease tensions.
1. Ask to have foods you are comfortable eating available, if possible.
If you are okay with eating around others but the food choices are intimidating, perhaps asking to have safe foods prepared or even prepping them yourself is a way to participate in this common holiday ritual. You may still get comments, however. Which brings us to number 2.
2. Do not take comments to heart, or they will add fuel to the flame and make you feel worse.
This one is particularly difficult, (believe me, I know from experience) but it is best not to argue or bicker over the situation because it only makes it worse for you and nothing is learned when conversations take on that tone. Of course you can’t control others and their actions, so try to stay calm.
3. Try talking to a few loved ones ahead of time.
Perhaps a conversation with a trusted loved one will provide some understanding. But do not let things escalate. If it seems like an argument may be brewing, back away from the conversation, as it could prove toxic or harmful.
4. Provide educational material for loved ones willing to listen.
With the world at our fingertips thanks to the internet, there’s no shortage of information regarding eating disorders. However, not all of it is helpful or accurate. Sift through the information and pull from what you think best explains the true nature of your eating disorder. This may provide information in words you are unable to find yourself, or at least open up a dialogue of questions, which is a good thing.
5. Remember that you are stronger than you think you are.
I used to always believe that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t make it through. But I always did. You are strong, you can make it through this, and it doesn’t have to be alone. Reach out for the help and support you need. It will get you through even the most challenging of times.
If you are living with an eating disorder, there is hope. You don’t have to be trapped forever.