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Why Struggling With Anorexia Around the New Year Is So Difficult

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By the first of January, most human beings feel exhausted after the “all-consuming” Christmas period. When I use the word “consuming,” it’s no metaphor, with most people consuming more on Christmas than any other day. This is the time of year when our food intake often peaks.

Being a celebration, Christmas is often concentrated around food; and it’s not unlikely to hear people making light-hearted comments about weight, size, calories and exercise, in the aim of brushing aside the reality of Christmastime. The idea of lots of food can be a daunting prospect for anyone, but it can be particularly difficult for those with an extreme fear of it — those with eating disorders.

Christmas was a holiday I used to absolutely love, so it was completely heartbreaking to feel a loathing sense of dread during its buildup this year. But, like many people battling an eating disorder, I struggled my way through it, and despite the overwhelming guilt I felt after eating, I survived! It felt weirdly good to watch the celebratory days of food and festivities, consisting of family meals that lasted for hours on end, disappear into the past. Pushing Christmas to the back of my mind, rather than basking in its joy, was the only thing I could do to prevent my anorexia commencing a yearlong fast to rid my body of anything it consumed over the Christmas period. By the time New Year’s Eve came around, I was absolutely exhausted.

People usually think of New Year’s as a new start, and as much as I would like to put 2017 into my past and start fresh this year, I know that’s not possible. Before 2018 arrived, I’d already accepted the fact that no, I’m not starting it in the best place I can, but this is where I am and I just have to work with it. 2017 has shaped me (possibly not in the best way) to be where I am now. I am left with more scars, illnesses, fears and traumatic memories than I began the year with, but that’s just the way it is. I’ve been thrown into the nightmarish realms of anorexia to begin 2018 with, and it is my job to get myself out.

A lot of people have said to me, “new year, new you, this is the best time to start recovery!” So, I set out to give myself some resolutions along the lines of: sticking to my meal plan, complying with treatment, not exercising and banishing detrimental behaviors. Unfortunately, these things are easier said than done, and as the new year approached, it seemed to become an increasingly daunting prospect. People around me showered me with resolutions of their own, consisting of dieting, exercising and weight loss – seemingly the polar opposite of mine. With the media becoming increasingly focused on advertising gym memberships and clean detox diets, having a New Year’s resolution of gaining weight while the rest of the nation strived for the opposite seemed slightly ridiculous.

New Years Eve was suddenly upon me, and the image of the long stretch of 2018 ahead became terrifying. While everyone else was out partying, I opted for a family night in that ensured I would be asleep through any of the midnight celebrations. The sleep I’d hoped for never came and I was all of a sudden back to the old ways of my bad depressive episodes; when I’d stay up all night worrying about the future, seeing nothing but a big dark sea of bad. The resolutions that I’d previously contemplated seemed ridiculously out of reach and completely pointless. And as the new year came into focus, these thoughts were most definitely not helped by the much-anticipated presence of the “obesity crisis” being plastered over every single news story everywhere! “Children should only be allowed two 100 calorie snacks a day.” “Advice on achieving those new year’s weight loss resolutions.” “Children as young as five are obese in the UK.” It’s hugely overwhelming and can be extremely detrimental to those in eating disorder recovery. We just got past Christmas, a time that can sometimes be extremely difficult, and we might be getting back on track with our recovery plans, and suddenly we’re being drowned in weight loss tips and how to overcome obesity. Helpful, isn’t it? I can honestly say I was not ready for the emotional turmoil of what a winter with anorexia would be like. And to anyone who has had to fight their way through it, all I can say is: you are so bloody strong!

In a world where the “epidemic of obesity” is becoming obsessive, when it comes to eating, being overweight is often the only thing we’re really worried about. Even studying for my GCSEs, in the nutrition curriculum in PE, biology and even French, I was only ever taught about the risks of what eating too much can do. When I first got ill people used to say to me, “Come on, you do nutrition, you know how dangerous this is!” But as much as I knew how damaging my behaviors were to my body, it was never from my education! I was only ever taught about what too little exercise, too much fat and too much sugar can do. Never have I once been taught in school how dangerous excessive exercising, restrictive eating and extreme dieting can be!

I think the fatal cost of eating disorders is being completely overlooked and buried by the amount of publicity given to obesity. Of course, obesity is a problem, but so are other eating disorders, and the amount of people struggling with eating disorders is increasing from the fuel that weight loss campaigns give to them. While the majority of the population have an understanding of obesity, our ability to criticize and present a prejudice over body size and shape in a way that gender once was, is increasing. The language used to describe those who are overweight is shocking, and would be seen as deeply unacceptable if applied to any other characteristic of a person.

I think the more people are shamed, the greater anxiety over weight can become. And in the new year, when weight is the hot topic, those struggling with disordered eating can watch their fears shoot sky high. What can make things even more difficult, is the lack of understanding of eating disorders like anorexia. As long as these conditions continue to be perceived as “self-obsessed” and “vain,” where “pulling yourself together” is the obvious solution, I think people will continue to be misunderstood by onlookers, particularly during the new year period where the main focal point is weight loss, not gain.

Our society is driving eating disorders, where weight and body image are becoming a moral issue rather than a health one. Appearances are becoming so easily deceiving, and it’s time for things to change — for the reality of “clean” eating, dieting and detoxing to be revealed. Rather than detoxing or obsessing over food this year, what we need is to stress the importance of just enjoying food for what it is and actually embracing what we’re so lucky to have! I have yet to discover it for myself, but I am sure it will be possible to love food again, without hating my body for it!

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Getty image via domoyega

Originally published: January 25, 2018
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