Top Tips on Coping With Eating Disorders This Christmas. Advice from an expert at Schoen Clinic Newbridge
Christmas can be stressful at the best of times – but Christmas dinner can be one of the biggest obstacles families have to navigate, especially if a young person has an eating disorder. The Christmas season focuses on food and family get-togethers, so supporting a family member with an eating disorder presents multiple challenges. Common problems include having to eat in front of lots of people, being watched and commenting on eating behaviours.
Gill Williams, Nurse and Parent Practitioner at the *award-winning Schoen Clinic Newbridge, specialist eating disorder hospital for children and young people with eating disorders, has this advice for families at this challenging time of year:
“For the person coping with anorexia at Christmas, there is likely to be raised anxiety about the abundance of food as well as more pressure to eat with other people and to eat food they might otherwise avoid. Parents are also likely to be feeling the pressure to create a happy, or even perfect day (social media can be particularly unhelpful in this respect). However, it is much better to talk through and acknowledge worries of eating disorders and Christmas as early as possible.”
Top Tips and Advice on Navigating Christmas Dinner with an Eating Disorder:
Before the Meal - Advice for Parents and Carers:
Talk to the young person beforehand about what they think would make the day a little easier.
The contents and serving size of a meal should be decided in advance.
Plate up the young person’s and parent’s food ahead, rather than the stress of having to choose food out of a dish or taking food in front of a lot of people.
Try to sit the parent next to the young person.
Gill goes on to say:
“It can be helpful to get together with a child, to think ahead about possible strategies that might help enable them to cope with Christmas pressures. The young person feeling they can manage what’s in front of them depends on point of recovery, but they need to be part of the celebration or what the family do traditionally and what matters to them, preserving the personality of the family. The eating disorder is not welcome. For example, at Newbridge, a couple of weeks before Christmas we do a Christmas rehearsal. So, for the whole day, they’ll eat Christmas food, so they feel ready on Christmas Day and it can be incorporated without being ‘extra’ to the diet plan.”
During the Meal - How to Prepare:
Play music in the background (because they might be too anxious to converse).
Curtail the amount of time you spend on the meal.
Don’t make any surprises, (no uncertainty).
Initiate topics of conversation as there may be anxiety around managing what’s in front of them and also disrupting the day.
Short and sweet with the meal is ideal but do challenge food behaviours as this is best in the long run.
Gill says: “Parents have this sense that they’ve done something wrong which is why their child has the eating disorder, and they start beating themselves up. They might compare themselves to other parents and have a loss of confidence in their skills as a carer.
After the Meal:
It is normal to want to praise a child but refrain as it can make them feel more shame.
Try to have an activity planned afterwards such as a game.
Gill says: “The importance here is being together as a family, feeling relaxed and feeling confident. This is the time to be together and not time for the eating disorder to hijack the day. As soon as you’ve had an argument with a young person, the eating disorder has won. By implementing some of tips I’ve talked about, Christmas day can be far more about family, than food.”
*Schoen Clinic Newbridge is The Laing Buisson Hospital of the Year 2021 and is nationally and internationally renowned for helping children and young people (8-18 years) with diagnosed eating disorders and their associated problems. Newly renovated, it is now a 34-bed inpatient hospital welcoming NHS, privately insured and self-funded patients.
It is the only private hospital of this nature rated Outstanding by the Care Quality Commission twice consecutively (2016 and 2018).
For more information, please visit Schoen Clinic Newbridge website.
About Gill Williams
Gill Williams is a Nurse and Parent Practitioner at Schoen Clinic Newbridge and has expertise in helping patients make the transition between the hospital and home.
For specific comment and further information, please contact Juliet Francis at: JFPR Consulting