Eating Disorders

Managing Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays

Although a ‘season of joy‘ for many, coping with very food-focused holidays like Christmas when in eating disorder recovery can feel more like hell than joy on earth.

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The holidays can be a very difficult time for many people. It can be a sad occasion due to loss or loneliness, it can be stressful due to family feuds and it can be tricky in regards to our mental health. This is especially true for those of us who suffer from eating disorders.

Although a ‘season of joy‘ for many, coping with very food-focused holidays like Christmas when in eating disorder recovery can feel more like hell than joy on earth.

Food can easily become the main focus of every situation, which can leave us feeling smothered by the calories we’re expected to consume.

With that in mind, is it possible to get through the holidays in one peace?

Here are 8 Ways to Cope with an Eating Disorder During The Holidays:

1. Set clear boundaries.

The holidays are usually a time filled with work-dos, family gatherings and spending time with loved ones. You can’t attend everything, and that’s perfectly fine. Just like you can’t please everyone, which is also perfectly fine (and entirely not your fault).

“No” is not a dirty word. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by a situation, then you have the right to politely decline or excuse yourself.

Pop-out for a walk, spend time with your dog/cat, take a breather with some Netflix or even go for a nap. Self-care is so important during the holidays in general, but especially when you’re surrounded by potential triggers.

2. Take some time to yourself.

During the holidays we’re expected to be present both physically and mentally. Depending on the kind of set up you have, this can be easier said than done.

If you find spending time with people, especially family, overwhelming, then it’s a good idea to schedule some ‘me’ time. Pop off during the downtime and read a book or play some video games. If you’re fit and able you could even do some yoga.

3. Plan distractions.

From my experience, it’s always best to have a planned distraction following the traditional holiday feast. This can be in the form of colouring, reading a good book or even partaking in the annual Monopoly minefield.

Make sure you have something in mind prior to walking into the situation but don’t be afraid to change it up a bit if prompted. Maybe Monopoly isn’t your thing, maybe you’re more into Total Rickall?

4. Have an ‘emergency contact‘.

Not everyone can be there for you during the holiday period. We all have our own lives and families to attend to. If you can possibly manage it make prior arrangements with a friend, a partner or even a family member to be there just in case.

For example, I know I can always rely on my partner to help out of a bad situation, whether the threat is real or fabricated. Last year he even attended our family dinner. He was able to be there for not only me but everyone while we navigated what would be our last Christmas as a family.

Even during the holidays, BEAT is on hand to answer any distress calls. Helplines will be open between 4 pm – 8 pm from December 24th, 2019 until January 1st, 2020.

5. Be kind to yourself (and others).

This shouldn’t need much explanation. Be nice, be kind and be mindful of others during the holidays. For some, this could be the first year without a loved one or perhaps they’re lonely and have no one to turn to. No matter where you are, at work or at home, be kind.

How can we mention kindness without also thinking of ourselves!? Impossible! The kindness you put out into the world needs to also be displayed in how we treat ourselves.

Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed, but deal with it appropriately. If you’re feeling scared or anxious, talk about it but don’t act on it negatively. Communication, vulnerability, and honesty are your best friends right now. Use them.

6. Let go of expectations and detrimental thinking, even just for one day.

I always expect big events like Christmas, Halloween and the new year to be perfect. Where these expectations come from, I’m not sure, but I know that I’m always left feeling sorely disappointed. The truth is nothing can be perfect and we need to let go of that expectation.

Equally, we need to let go of the expectation we hold for ourselves. It’s okay to eat a little bit more than usual, it’s okay to get up at nine instead of six A.M. Challenge the negative thinking patterns that are telling you that it’s not, and tell them exactly why it is!

Eating Disorders ruin our lives for the majority of the year, don’t let it ruin the downtime you have with your friends and family.

7. Accept that it’s going to be challenging.

The holidays are always going to hold some sort of dread because it’s largely about eating and being in the company of others. To expect it to be easy is setting yourself up for failure.

Be aware of the fact that you’re going to be challenged more than normal. You’re going to have to fight (and fight hard) against your internal critic. Be mindful but don’t allow it to ruin the season. If we can identify the triggers and do our best to either avoid them or safely challenge them, then it makes the experience that bit easier.

8. Stick to the plan.

No matter what goes down, if your meal plan says ‘Eat 6 times a day‘, stick to it. I appreciate that routines become mixed up over the holidays, but attempt to stick to the plan as much as possible to prevent major disruption.

This doesn’t stop with meal plans. It also includes waking/sleeping times and trying to maintain consistency throughout. Of course, a lie-in or a late-night is warranted but try and keep it as similar to your normal routine as possible.

When we step outside normality it can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary distress. This is especially true where food or mealtimes are concerned.

I personally find the holidays to be very difficult not only in terms of food but family dynamics.

This year, after the passing of both my grandfather and grandmother, I’m preparing for the fact that Christmas will never be the same again. The added sadness will no doubt impact on how I manage food, however, with correct support from my partner, I’m hoping I’ll come out unscathed.

Have you any other tips for coping with the holidays? Share in the comments below!


My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.

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