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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 11:52 GMT
When Christmas indulgence spells despair
A spread like this is a nightmare for people with eating disorders
Christmas may seem like a good excuse to indulge in overeating and excess to many, but to people with eating disorders it can spell despair.

People with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa can become almost suicidal because of the pressure to eat at Christmas.

"Bulimia reaches an all-time high over Christmas with people throwing up all the time and some resort to cutting themselves," said a spokeswoman for the Eating Disorders Centre.

She added that many buy large quantities of laxatives to get them through the period.


Both anorexia and bulimia have been rising fast in the last few decades. Anorexia, which involves self-starvation, can lead to death in 20% of cases.

Bulimia is characterised by a cycle of binge eating and starving. Sufferers often use laxatives or make themselves vomit so that the food they eat does not stay in their bodies for long.

Eating disorders are becoming increasingly common
Excessive use of laxatives and vomiting can cause long-lasting health problems.

Repeat vomiting can cause tooth decay, mouth and throat infections and enlarged neck glands because of the acid brought up from the stomach.

It can also lower potassium levels which could cause kidney failure and heart irregularities.

Excessive use of laxatives can damage the colon and slow the movement of the intestinal tract.

Talking away fears of food

The CED says experienced therapists have agreed to man the phoneline for free over Christmas.

The centre has already taken calls about Christmas on its regular number - 0171 291 4565.

"People are pleased we are here to help," said the spokeswoman.

"We try to talk them through their fears and calm them down. People with these disorders tend to see an extra bit of trifle as an enormous thing.

"We try to make them see it for what it is and tell them it will not make them put on two stone overnight."

She added: "We tell them they are not alone and the dangers of some behaviour like taking laxatives. We ask is it worth the harm."

She said many callers had problems talking about their eating disorder because people did not understand it or thought it was a "self-inflicted" illness.

The therapists will also offer counselling to family members of people with eating disorders.

"It is terribly frightening to see someone you love harming themselves. Families do not have enough support," said the spokeswoman.

The helpline can be reached on 0181 959 2330.

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