3 Tips to Navigate The Holidays While in Eating Disorder Recovery


Imagine this scenario: You walk into a Christmas party bursting to the brim with the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays. Every inch of the room is covered with festive decor and twinkling lights. At a quick glance, you see a number of recognizable faces and a good deal of people that you don’t really know. There is laughter, drinks being passed around, Christmas music in the background.

And then, there’s the food.

It’s the focal point of any holiday party. On every table and countertop, there is a tray of something especially created for this time of year. Dips, appetizers, candies and treats, desserts of every kind imaginable - all laid out for consumption and indulgence. There’s the well-meaning relative who comments about your appearance or pushes you to eat more.

Eating Disorder Triggers

For most people, this scenario is the holiday normal. But for the many individuals that struggle with an eating disorder, this situation can feel suffocating. The sheer volume of food around the holidays alone can be overwhelming to any person who has fought to overcome an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.

Add in the mix of body comments, conversations about the latest “dieting fads”, the friend who swears that after the New Year, they are giving up sugar for life - and you pretty much can have a recipe for disaster.

Yes, the holidays are about sharing and cherishing moments with the ones we love. If you have an eating disorder, how can you navigate these types of situations that are often triggering?

Here are three key areas that can help you stay focused on your eating disorder recovery during the holiday season:

1. Nourish your body consistently and adequately

Many people fall into a mindset that there needs to be some form of compensating in order to eat holiday foods. It’s not uncommon to see very minimal eating during the day in anticipation of a “big dinner”, or restricting some foods in order to eat others.

These types of behaviors are incredibly dangerous for someone recovering from an eating disorder. It is this type of mindset that can lead down a slippery slope. Our bodies need to be nourished adequately and consistently. You can eat that holiday treat without having to skip out on something else.

You deserve to enjoy eating without feeling guilt. Attempting to compensate for eating certain foods robs you of this pleasure. Be sure you are eating regularly, even when there is a “special” meal planned for the day, including all the foods your body needs to feel satisfied and energized.

2. Know how to find the nearest exit

You know how in an airplane or movie theater, the exits are always clearly designated? In the event of an emergency, you would know exactly how to leave. In the same way, it’s important to know “how to exit” a situation that is becoming overwhelming or triggering.

It may be an actual physical exit, where you step outside or give yourself a break by removing yourself entirely. It may be something like setting a boundary with someone who is commenting about your weight or using a positive coping mechanism when all you want to do is retreat back in your eating disorder.

Coming into potentially triggering situations armed with effective coping strategies can empower you to “find the exit” without needing your eating disorder.

3. Practice the Art of Saying No

It’s easy to fill our calendars this time of year and be thrown in too many directions at once. One of the most freeing feelings in the world can actually be to say NO to filling your schedule and intentionally building space for yourself for reflection, relaxation, and fellowship with those you love.

When you’re overbooked, you are more likely to become overstressed, which can easily become a trigger for eating disorder behaviors. Minimize your stress by simplifying your obligations.

Ask yourself, what really fills your cup this holiday season and commit yourself to doing these things. When you look at your calendar, are you prioritizing your recovery? Enjoy this season with a greater sense of joy and gratitude by saying no to busyness and yes to your recovery.

Wherever you may find yourself today, know that you are not alone. The holiday season can be triggering and isolating for many people who are struggling with an eating disorder. With self-compassion, intentionality, and support, you can successfully navigate this season, upholding the hope that full recovery IS possible.