January 1st - notorious for the 'new year new me' culture, where we all set out goals and aspirations for the new year, commonly associated with getting fit, losing weight, or giving something up. There is nothing wrong with setting yourself new goals, but this feature will explore some of the possible added difficulties of the festive period, for someone who experiences mental ill health.
We all have mental health. In fact, 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues each year, (1) with mental illness being the second-largest source of burden of disease in England. (2) This isn't just 'paused' for the holidays in an attempt to fulfil family and cultural tradition of happiness and merriness.
Research has shown that the top 3 new year's resolutions revolve around body image and diet including eating healthier, losing weight, and exercising more. (3). But can the pressure of setting a New Years Resolution cause, or further develop, a mental illness?
The most commonly known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating. It is estimated that over 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, with 25% of these being men. (4) However, it is unfortunate to recognise that, as a result of the stigma attached to mental health issues, this total number is much larger as people will be reluctant to seek help.
So, at the beginning of a New Year, think carefully before encouraging someone to get fitter, lose weight, or eat healthier. It is very easy to hide an eating disorder - so you may never know if someone is already experiencing one. It can easily be disguised with baggy clothes or secretly purging, and if someone suspects something, or begins to see the signs or symptoms, there will be the easy excuse of 'I'm on diet, it's part of my New Years Resolution'.
Setting a target weight can also be very dangerous. A key thing to remember is that a person's body weight will fluctuate on a day to day basis and this can very dependant on what they have eaten, drank, water and sodium retention, menstrual cycle, exercise etc. So, always provide encouragement, and don't shame or joke about that little bit of weight gain - as other people's opinions always matter (even if it is meant sarcastically) and this can have a severely negative effect on someone who is not at all body confident.
I can't remember how many times someone has said to me 'oh, well you've put on a few pounds haven't you?' It's not nice to hear. Now imagine if I had been trying everything in my power to lose that weight and nothing was working.
What about Veganuary?
Veganuary is a 31 day challenge where participants switch to become a vegan for the month of January. During this challenge, you cannot eat any produce from animals including meat, fish and dairy.
In recent years, it has been discussed whether there is a relationship between vegetarianism / veganism and eating disorders as a result of limited nutrient intake throughout the diet, and whether suddenly switching to eating vegan, without consulting your GP, can be harmful and dangerous to your body. Nutrients lost can include Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, Protein and Iron - all essential to keeping our bodies strong and healthy.