Skip to content

Navigating the Holidays With an Eating Disorder

Victory Bay

The holidays claim to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for those with an eating disorder these seasons present new and difficult challenges for staying on track with recovery. Why is that? First and foremost, the holidays are an emotionally taxing time for those who don’t have an eating disorder. Family drama, financial worries, and time management all cue up internal stress that can tax even if the most well-adjusted person.

Add to that the fact that the holidays are an especially food focused season, with a big emphasis on sit down meals, and those working towards recovery with an eating disorder face multiple triggers, big emotional upheavals, and ever growing anxiety.

The good news is, of course, that those with an eating disorder have legions of other recovered fellows who state that getting through the holidays with an ED, while tough in the beginning, is possible. Not only that, many with recovered ED’s share their new relationship with the holidays began, and thrived, as the years in recovery progressed.  

You don’t have to go through this process alone. Check out these six tips on how to navigate the holiday season with an eating disorder.

Utilize Professionals & Support System

Like I said, you are not alone. Establish allies in this process, and use them to help you prepare for what’s to come. Your care team, such as a nutritionist and therapist, are there to help you process fear and anxiety related to the holidays, while also making a plan for how to move through this season with the most success. An example could be using a nutritionist or dietician to establish what you’d like to eat during events or dinners so you aren’t walking into a meal overwhelmed.

Additionally, use your people. Trusted friends and family are there to support you and offer guidance during this time. Identify the people in your support network who are available for phone calls at times of anxiety, or who can squeeze in hang-outs so you don’t have to feel alone.

Make a Plan

Identifying how and where you will spend your time over the holiday season is a crucial part of maintaining your recovery. Take the time to plan out what events will bring you joy, what events are mandatory, and what events aren’t the best environment for you. Remember, you are allowed to say no to events that you’ve identified as too overwhelming or anxiety-provoking during the holiday season. Additionally, set exit times for yourself from events to feel more in control of your experience.

If you’ve been working with a professional on a meal plan, don’t feel you need to abandon that due to holiday pressure. It’s recommended that those with a meal plan stay as close as possible to this during the holiday season to ease anxiety and progress in recovery.

Establish Communication & Boundary Setting

When using your support system, be sure to communicate with them prior to events to avoid language that may be triggering during meal time. Using words such as “good” or “bad” to describe food, or diet-centered talk, can be asked to be left off the table.

Part of establishing empowerment in recovery is boundary setting, so don’t shy away from speaking your mind if this communication comes up. You’re allowed to ask for a safe container during the holidays, and if this is violated, allow yourself the power to re-establish what you need.

Identify what the Holidays Mean to You

Food related anxiety can rob the holidays of what they once meant to you. What’s your why? Do you love the feeling of gathering with family? The reflection of gratitude the coming new year has to offer? Is there a specific tradition or event that fills you with joy?

Make meaning of the holidays in new ways both internally and externally. Identify the facets of the holidays that once, or currently, bring you happiness and lean into what you love.

Avoid Substances

Nothing elevates eating disorder triggers quite as rapidly as indulging in substances. While alcohol and drugs may be tempting as temporary anxiety relief, they also can knock us off our meal plan, increase depression and skew our ability to remain present during the holiday season.

Substances, specifically alcohol, are a primary driver at holiday events which means planning becomes all the more pertinent before entering in a space that may pressure you to engage in their use. Remember your boundaries, exit plan and support in times of increased stress.

Honor your Bodies Cues

Not only physically, but mentally. A huge part of eating disorder recovery revolves around building a new relationship with your body and what it needs. Hunger cues, anxiety triggers, and feelings of fullness should all be mindfully noted and honored during the holidays.

Remember, there’s no perfect way to do this, and each recovery journey is different. If you start to experience body dysmorphia, poor body image, or other symptoms start to rise, mindfully center yourself in the present and extend yourself self-compassion.

Be Weary of Negative Self-Talk

Self-awareness is critical in getting through the holiday season unscathed. Be mindful of what your head may tell you during this process. The only way to navigate the realm of negative self-talk is to identify and pinpoint these thoughts so you can begin to challenge them. For many, this means offering alternative, compassion-based thoughts to disrupt the narrative in your head.

When the eating disorder self-talk starts to arise, try challenging it by thanking your thoughts for trying to keep you safe, and asking them to take a backseat so you can enjoy your holiday.

Ramp up your self-care, make a plan, identify your people, and settle in. Navigating the holidays with an eating disorder is challenging, but not impossible. Use your coping strategies, skills, and self-compassion to aid you in building a new relationship with the holidays.

Recovery with Victory Bay

At Victory Bay we’re here to help you achieve a new life with a new start in recovery. To learn more about the variety of treatment programs we offer, including mental health, eating disorders, and substance use, contact us today by calling 855.239.5099.