Christmas begins earlier each year. Soon the Christmas lights will stay up year round, Christmas in July is becoming a fashionable past time. It’s about food and company and cool weather and food and cool weather so we can eat more food. Food centred celebrations combined with social anxiety pose real barriers for people with ED (eating disorders).
It’s terrifying! All that food and all the expectations, ‘Try this, just a little, but I made it, it’s an old family recipe, I make it every Christmas.’ I’m out of there if only in my mind. Christmas is a challenge for many people but those with EDs have another level of complexity to bring to the table.
They often don’t know when it went weird, their relationship with food.
December, fatigue, rush, count down, Facebook posts counting down the sleeps to Christmas … roll over and catch some zzzzs. Time to put up the nativity, a fun time with family, playing with porcelain dolls, arranging them under the star of Wonder.
There’s food:dips and rice crackers (Vegan and gluten intolerant), cup cakes and coffee with almond milk (lactose intolerant). It’s manageable.
Next put up the Christmas tree, lights first, then tinsel, then ornaments (old things new things, bold things, bright things). It’s getting pretty busy. Handel’s Messiah blares across the room, our favourite the Hallelujah Chorus. The neighbours are doing the eye roll! Then snow; finely shredded tinsel red, silver and gold. Where’s the tree gone? Every year is the same! Every year we vow to be moderate.
There’s food: Lebkuchen, Christmas Mince Tarts and Pfeffernüsse. Coffee, mineral water and a bit of a walk. I nibble on a mince tart rationalising the calories; it’s Christmas.
Christmas Eve comes the main celebration, a tradition from my childhood. Polish the silver, set the table, buy cherries from the local cherry farm, check there are gifts for all. Plate up the nibbles, check we have enough sausages (vegetarian options tick), chill bevvies and sparkling grape juice …
Of course there’s food:
- cheese, olives, artichokes, cashew based dips
- potato salad, asparagus, green salad, Knackwurst, Veggiewurst, mustard
- cherries dusted with icing sugar, chocolate log
The table is pleasantly plump. I walk around it and remember my parents. We sit, eat and chat. I nearly enjoy the food.
Christmas Day arrives and we join the thousands of travellers driving to a family lunch which stretches into the afternoon and evening. It’s a family affair, everyone brings something. It’s big: nibbles, entrees, mains, plum pudding drunk in brandy sauce, sweets, chocolates, cake, coffee … The table looks magnificent bon-bons, crystal, candles, temptations, cutlery sentinel to the courses to come. I step back.
I walk around the table. It’s the prowl of the caged animal, tucked away inside me. It asserts itself tearing me between indulging and restricting. The excess intensifies the schism stretching the boundaries of my world and making the centre harder to find. I breathe in but the lumpy, bumpy clump where my empty stomach should be stays. It should be a day of celebration but my appetite has disappeared and I’m there watching the others indulge and overindulge. Then I choose to join in.
It’s Christmas and there’s food.
I consider myself a recovered anorexic. Living this reality for over 40 years, I’ve come to know it. Every now and then, I’m surprised by the tenacity of the experience and its ability to permeate into every aspect of my life. Christmas is beautiful but it is also complicated. It unearths memories and habits which tug you back when you’re trying to move forward. Every Christmas Day, I chose to reassert myself.