The gym is closed. There is food everywhere. It’s a big sit down family meal with everyone there to see how little you are eating and ask you if you’d like some more turkey. There are lots of leftovers for out-of-control midnight binges, and meals times are out of routine. Usually people skip breakfast on Christmas Day in order to eat a huge lunch or dinner—this used to really upset my scheduled eating patterns and, as a result, my eating disorder would scream like a stuck pig.
Knowing what I know now, I’d have planned ahead for Christmas in order to reduce some of the stress and relapses. I would always end up taking a step back in my recovery over Christmas as a result of the upheaval. Here is what I should have done every year:
Ask for help
I wish I had been able to talk to my family about all of the problems that I would experience over Christmas. If I had, maybe together we could have devised an eating plan to help me get though the day, and the season.
Recognise the problems and make plans:
1. Reduce your audience.
I should have requested that only close family and those who knew about my disease were present at Christmas Day Dinner. We used to have a wonderful extended family of friends and neighbours often join us, and this would raise my anxiety through the roof. Let me explain:
Imagine that you have to do this really terrifying and humiliating thing. I dunno, say for example, at mealtimes you have to be naked, and you are the only naked person at the table who is starkers—everyone else has their clothes on. That, for me, is what mealtimes can feel like—only the presence of food means that I am sitting at the dinner table naked eating live scorpions. So, it’s hard enough eating a meal with anyone else in the room at all, but if it utterly has to be done, the less people at the table the better. See what I mean?
2. Eat breakfast, eat lunch, and eat dinner.
Remember that one doesn’t have to stuff one’s face with a single huge meal just because that is what everyone else is doing—everyone else is not battling Anorexia, so they can do what they want. I on the other hand have a monster to manage. Even to this day, five plus years into full recovery, I don’t pig out on one single meal. Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, My Birthday, whatever. I have learned that I really don’t do well mentally when I skip a meal. Even now.
3. If you have a problem with binge eating at night, ask for help to manage it.
I should have told my parents that despite not eating all day long, (or not eating much if I did eat) I had a tendency to come downstairs in the middle of the night and eat more than one whole day’s worth of calories in one single, disgusting, effort. The harder part to explain to someone who is terrified that you are starving to death, is that binge eating actually made the illness worse.
If I binged at night, there would be no way that I would allow myself to eat the next day. Then, at night, my starving body would over-ride my disease and I would literally eat like a ravaged wild animal. Binge eating places a person with an eating disorder in a terribly hard cycle. If I didn’t binge at night, I had more chance of being able to eat breakfast the next day—and it is returning to the path of “normal” eating that is most difficult.
Let me try and explain: My eating disorder was far more active during the day than at night. This is because the eating disorder is not only about food, but also about food habits. Anorexia would not allow me to eat at times that a “normal” human being would eat. Because most people eat during the day, eating during the day was forbidden by my eating disorder.
Anorexia made the act of eating breakfast feel rather like holding on to an electric fence. Have you ever done that? I’ve had to plenty of times due to working with livestock and horses. You know it is going hurt, but you just have to suck it up and do it. Eating breakfast the morning after a midnight binge would be like wrapping that pulsing electric fence around my entire body. It’s even harder to do.
In hindsight, I should have asked for help with this. Asking a sister to sleep through the night with me would have deterred the get up and binge, and then I might have been better rested and able to deal with the breakfast gauntlet. The thing is, in order to recover from an eating disorder, one has to eat regular meals—and never skip them—as this helps break the abnormal behaviours and helps to set up a more desirable eating cycle.
I think the biggest difference between now and when I was suffering, was that I didn’t understand that Anorexia is a disease. Because I had been told it was a choice and that I was doing it on purpose, I suffered in silence. I felt guilty enough that I was so difficult and stressed with everyone, that I would have hated to ask for help and inconvenience my family further. If you think of Anorexia as an illness, you begin to understand that planning and talking about how to make it through the holidays is crucial in the same way that it is for someone suffering from cancer or any other life-threatening illness.
Just because the medication for Anorexia is food, doesn’t mean that it should not be treated with the same caution and respect that an illness that is medicated by pharmaceuticals is.
The Good News
Since I have recovered, I can enjoy Christmas—well, other than the crowds of shoppers and all of that rubbish. I still have to be on the lookout for the triggers that make me want to skip meals or binge, but after years of practice I am well on top of all that.