The season of abundant yuletide food has arrived, and that means even higher anxiety for people with eating disorders.
Chelsey Reaney, who is battling an eating disorder, said family drama and costs associated with Christmas compound her issues with food.
“Stress is not good for someone in my place. You want to try and control something, and the only thing you can is whether you eat or not,” said Reaney, 26, who is five foot one and weighs 77 pounds.
“Christmas is one of the worst holidays for me. It’s just a whole bunch of pressure. There’s a whole bunch of food and everyone expects you to eat.”
She said Canadians are becoming more aware of mental illness, but most are still in the dark about eating disorders.
“A lot of my friends are just — eat. Don’t throw up your meals. Eat healthier,” said Reaney of Red Deer.
“You can’t just eat. It’s not that simple. You have to work hard at it and have to get the help.”
It’s only in the past few months that Reaney has realized that she needs help and has an appointment to see a counsellor specializing in eating disorders.
“I’m constantly exhausted. My hair is falling. I tend to sleep a lot. I have no muscle to me, so I can’t actually lift anything.”
Reaney has a GoFundMe account to raise money to attend a residential treatment centre, preferably an out-of-province Christian program.
If that’s not possible, she hopes to raise enough for transportation to an Edmonton treatment centre and for accommodations for her fiancee in that city.
Across Alberta, access to support groups is available online through the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta, which also is hosting the event Self Care for the Holidays: Intuitive Eating and Boundaries in Calgary at Serenity Now Wellness Centre on Dec. 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Network co-director Maureen Plante said people can learn how to develop a self-care plan to navigate stressful holiday events.
“There tends to be a lot of anxiety around food. This might come from just food in general. It might come from interactions with people you are around. A family member might comment you’re not eating enough and put more food on your plate. That can be very anxiety provoking for a person who suffers from disorder eating,” Plante said.
She said there are strategies to ground yourself and communicate with others. People also need to be kind to themselves, take time for themselves, and have a strong support system in place.
Co-director Lauren Berlinguette said stress can be triggered when people attend more events than usual, encounter people they don’t often see, and have to deal with opinionated people.
And right after Christmas comes “new year, new me” pressure, she said.
“Some of the diet culture talk that comes up in January can also be really stressful. We kind of go up one hill and down the other side,” Berlinguette said.
Online support groups have been an effective way to reach Albertans regardless of where they live, she said.
“We find in the winter especially, people really gravitate to having an online group to go to. They can access our groups from the comfort of their own home.”