Ask the Expert: My daughter has anorexia – how can we deal with Christmas dinner?

I'm dreading Christmas because of the tension surrounding my teenage daughter's eating disorder

Q: MY 15-year-old daughter has an eating disorder and I'm dreading Christmas because I know she won't eat Christmas dinner and there'll be rows about her eating problems. What can I do and say to encourage her to eat something without an argument, and make Christmas happier for us all?

Former anorexic Hope Virgo, author of Stand Tall Little Girl: Facing Up to Anorexia (Trigger Publishing, £11.99. Available now), says: "Christmas is a tough time of year for so many, with the pressure to have a perfect day. Add into that the fear of food and it creates turmoil for the whole surrounding period. There's no denying that it can be hard, but I also know it can be OK.

"I suggest you have a plan in place. In the build-up to Christmas, make sure you have a conversation about the day. This should include timings for meals and the meals planned – remember this doesn't have to be a roast dinner, your daughter could have something she feels more comfortable with. So, make sure you have a plan for the few days before and after Christmas – perhaps making meals 'easier' for her.

"Remind her on the day that you know she's struggling, but it'll be OK. This is important, as it means she won't think that you think she's OK if she's eating. You could do this the night before as well.

"Ask her what support is helpful. Tell her you want to make it a good day for her too, without adding pressure. And have an open chat with everyone about food comments (eg the diet comments, people focusing on how much food they're having, or the calories in things), so everyone knows what not to say. These conversations could be triggering to your daughter.

"Have distractions in place before and after the meal, eg board games or a movie, and suggest a 20-minute walk. During the walk, check in with her to see how she's finding it.

"Communication is key. Remember it isn't about knowing all the answers, but about having someone who understands how hard it is."

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