Holiday Recovery Challenges and How to Cope

PUBLISHED DEC. 14, 2015 | EDITED OCT. 28, 2021

People in eating disorder recovery know the challenges they face are not really about food.

Stress and anxiety–which are commonly experienced around the holidays – can be triggers that cause people in eating disorder recovery to lose balance or even relapse. While these individuals may feel overwhelmed during the holiday season, there are ways to cope, establish boundaries, and even enjoy many of the festivities.



Here are 12 tips to support your recovery this holiday season.

Indeed, the holidays can be especially difficult for those in eating disorder recovery to navigate—but not impossible. In fact, it is possible to not just survive the holidays but to actually enjoy and look forward to them. Just remember: aim for progress, not for perfection.


  1. Know your relapse triggers. One of the most important things of all is to identify those factors that are especially difficult for you to cope with—the things most likely to lead you to relapse. If there are certain situations or conversation topics that you find challenging, make sure you know what they are—and be ready to address them or avoid them as needed.


  1. Continue your treatment. Because the holiday season is so busy, it can be tempting to put a pause on your recovery—but don’t! You need it now more than ever! Keep meeting with your dietician and going to therapy just like normal.


  1. Communicate. Let your close friends or family members know that the season may prove difficult for you; share with them any specific concerns you have regarding meals, routines, family, etc. and remind them how much you appreciate and rely on their encouragement and support.


  1. Set boundaries. Our loved ones are great, but they can’t read minds. Make sure you communicate with family members about conversation topics that you’d like them to avoid. They may not get it right the first time around, but progress has to begin somewhere.


  1. Practice stress management. Let’s get real. During the holidays, you might as well expect to be stressed at one point or another. What’s really important is how to plan for this likely situation. Whether it’s walking the dog, practicing yoga, painting, or writing in a journal, make sure you have a stress outlet you can turn to throughout the season.


  1. Develop an exit strategy. Rehearse what you’ll say to duck out of a party or holiday gathering a bit early, should you feel it necessary to do so. Your recovery always comes first, even if that means leaving your Holiday dinner before dessert is served, etc.


  1. Don’t keep the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you’re the one who typically hosts the family Holiday gathering but you don’t feel up to doing so this year, ask someone else to take it on.


  1. Practice gratitude. Gratitude can actually make you happier. Spend some time contemplating the things in your life you’re thankful for—every day.


  1. Follow your meal plan. Try not to deviate from your normal eating habits; no skipping breakfast because you plan on a big holiday lunch.


  1. Check-in with your hunger and fullness cues. This is especially important when you’re at a holiday party. Be intentional about mealtimes, and forgive yourself if you slip.


  1. Give yourself a break. Don’t beat yourself up, even and especially if you make a mistake or have a little lapse. Shame only makes things harder-always. Be kind to yourself this holiday season.


  1. Enjoy the holidays. Holiday recovery challenges are not easy to overcome. Still, you owe it to yourself to seek out the parts that are nourishing, fun, and which help you feel connected. Commit to carving out space for cheer and celebrate all the courage and hard work that got you this far.
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