Christmas is often the hardest time of year for eating disorder sufferers and their families. Here’s how to seek support and stay strong, according to a Beat ambassador who’s been there

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With greater public awareness around mental health issues , most of us are conscious of the fact that Christmas isn’t a joyful period for all, but for those suffering with an eating disorder, it can be an intensely anxiety ridden, scary experience. Even if a sufferer has been making a good recovery, a sudden influx of food and family, alongside a sudden break in routine, can cause extreme stress and trigger obsessive behaviours, feelings of loneliness and isolation and an overarching sense of crippling guilt.

This was the experience of Beat eating disorder charity  ambassador Amelie, a former anorexic who suffered binge-purge cycles for two subsequent festive periods, and bulimia last year. In a video recently released on the charity’s website, she explains the cruel convergence of what’s meant to be the happiest time of year, with the misery brought about by the paranoia, low mood and compulsive behaviours caused by her eating disorder. From being offered food at every step to feeling self-loathing at the fact that she wasn’t enjoying Christmas day as much as she could be, she bravely opens up about her past struggles, sharing that she spent two hours in the gym on Christmas Day last year due to pent up feelings of frustration and isolation, as well as a sense that she had no one to talk to.

Despite the difficulties she has experienced, she’s feeling positive and well prepared for this year’s festivities, emphasising that family support and simple acts such as going out on a walk together, focusing on exciting elements of Christmas that don’t revolve around food and remembering that anger and sadness are a symptom of the eating disorder, not the sufferer, all help immensely. Through sharing her personal account and teaming up with Beat, she also impresses that no sufferer or family is alone in battling eating disorders over Christmas, and advice and support will be available throughout the Christmas period by way of Beat’s Helpline . At often the toughest time for eating disorder sufferers, there will be a trained support worker at the end of the line from 6pm-10pm on the 24th, 25th and 26th of December, while four online peer support groups will run on each day. The ‘Aviary’- a space for anyone supporting someone with an eating disorder; partners, parents, siblings, and family members, will also be open from 6pm. From 7-8:30pm, they will run Kingfisher  for those suffering from bulimia, Nightingale  for those suffering with binge eating disorders, and Swan  for those suffering with anorexia.

Amelie’s is feeling optimistic about Christmas this year, and encourages other sufferers to have faith in themselves and reach out to others, be it friends, family, the Beat helpline or a support group. The most important message is that you’re certainly not the only one feeling this way, and you will feel better.

Find out more about Beat support and resources here