Eating disorder charity Beat have announced they will be opening their helpline each evening between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, with record numbers of calls expected
Eating disorder charity Beat have announced their helpline will be available from 4-8pm every day from December 24 2018 to 1 January 2019. The period between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day has been called “a minefield and emotional rollercoaster” by one former eating disorder sufferer for those who are experiencing, have experienced, or are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder.
More than 20% of callers in December 2017 contacted the helpline during this period. Beat has already seen record numbers of callers to date this year, with almost 3,000 calls during October alone. This upward trend is expected to continue over the holidays.
Ellie, who has experienced different eating disorders over the past 14 years, said that her feelings of shame were particularly acute when she was suffering from binge-purge cycles (binge-eating disorder) over the Christmas period.
“Being around so much food was overwhelming. Because it was food that wasn’t available at other times of the year, I had this voice telling me to ‘eat it all, now!’
“At Christmas, it is socially acceptable to indulge but people don’t give a second thought to how distressing this can be to people with bulimia or a binge eating disorder, who binge to extremes and then feel so anxious,” said Ellie.
“At Christmas, all the usual support networks aren’t there. Friends go away, the exercise clubs where I would go shut, the whole structure changes.”
Now, Ellie has ensured that she has a group of friends she can call on Christmas Day. “When everyone else seems to be so jolly, being able to call the Beat helpline and speak to someone who understands has been a lifeline.”
Faye shared similar feelings of shame at Christmas. Having suffered from bulimia for six years from the age of 18, she explained:
“Bulimia is very secretive and even when people know about your eating disorder behaviours, you still want to hide the illness from them. Christmas is a minefield and an emotional rollercoaster - lots of food and lots of eyes all watching, willing for you to ‘be normal’.”
Those with experiences of eating disordered stressed that it is not just the meal on Christmas itself that causes stress and distress, but also attending events and parties where food is not boundaried and alcohol is freely available.
These feelings of distress can often be felt by families of those suffering from an eating disorder. Susanna, whose teenage son is currently receiving inpatient treatment for anorexia, and who has experienced an eating disorder herself, said:
“I’m not going to lie – Christmas is a really, really difficult time. We’ll try to be aware of James’s stress levels and that he might need some space, he might feel he needs to escape at times.”
Susannah said that Christmas would be “much more low-key” than before James fell ill. As a family, they focus on the parts of Christmas that do not involve food and instead have fun together, but she acknowledged “knowing there’s somewhere you can turn if you reach crisis point is invaluable.”
Director of Services for Beat, Caroline Price, commented:
“We know from speaking to people on the helplines every day that Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time of year. Beat’s helplines are here to offer support and advice to anyone affected by these dreadful mental illnesses when they do not know who else to turn to, and can be contacted via phone, email, anonymous one-to-one through webchat or social media messaging.
“We are expecting to reach more people than ever over Christmas this year and help them in their recovery or support them just to get through this time.”
Last year, over 1,400 people contacted Beat’s helplines throughout December. Approximately 1.25 million people across the UK are thought to have an eating disorder at any one time, with an estimated 11 to 25% of those affected being male. Eating disorders can develop at any time, with cases as young as six being reported, as well as elderly individuals developing eating disorders into their 70s.
With help and support, those who experience an eating disorder can recover or improve. Research suggests around 46% of those experiencing anorexia recover fully, with 33% improving. Research into bulimia suggests around 45% recover fully, 27% improve considerably.
If you are concerned about yourself or a family member over the holiday period, contact your GP, or the Beat helpline is available for support and information for:
Young people on 0808 801 0711
Students on 0808 801 0811
Adults on 0808 801 0677
Helplines are open 365 days a year. For a full list of contact details, times, help and support, visit Beat Eating Disorders.
If you are struggling with your mental health and need to talk, or if you are worried about your child, professional support may help. Use the bar below to enter your location and find a counsellor in your area: