Navigating Holidays: A Guide For Individuals Recovering From Eating Disorders

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

Holidays usually fill our lives with joy, cheer, and the spirit of unity. They typically include times for celebration, enjoying feasts, and expressing gratitude. However,  for those on a recovery journey from eating disorders, the holiday season might present a unique set of challenges.

The holiday season is usually characterized by an emphasis on food, festivities, and occasionally, stressful family dynamics. These factors can make this time of year difficult for those in recovery.

Here, at Alsana, we know that with the right mindset and tools, these challenges can be transformed into opportunities for growth and resilience. Keep reading to gain valuable insights and practical advice on how to navigate the holiday season during your recovery journey from eating disorders.

Whether you’re in recovery yourself or trying to offer support to a loved one, our guide is designed to help you understand and manage these holiday obstacles by focusing on progress and self-compassion above all else.

Understanding the Challenge of Holidays

Holidays and eating disorders can be a complex mix. The holiday season, often characterized by family gatherings, festive meals, and changes in routine, can present significant obstacles to individuals in active recovery. The abundance of food, dietary alterations, and social dynamics can potentially provoke anxiety, leading to increased stress and pressure.

However, it’s crucial to know that these challenges are not unconquerable. Recognizing and understanding these obstacles is the first step towards successfully navigating the holiday season during recovery. This awareness lays the foundation for adopting effective strategies that can help maintain balance and keep recovery on the right path.

This period can also offer an opportunity to build resilience and develop new coping mechanisms, ultimately strengthening the recovery journey. With the correct approach, the holiday season can become a time not just of survival, but of personal growth and celebration of progress.

Every journey is unique, as are the challenges. Being aware of your hurdles and preparing for them can make a significant difference. Equipped with knowledge and understanding, one can face the holiday season with a sense of empowerment and confidence.

Recovery is not about achieving perfection, but embracing progress, even amidst the unique challenges of the holiday season.

Effective Strategies for the Holiday Season

Identifying Triggers

First, it’s crucial for you to understand your triggers for an eating disorder relapse. These could be particular situations, conversation topics, or even specific foods that may cause distress or lead to disordered eating behaviors. Being aware of your triggers in advance helps you prepare and develop coping strategies. This level of awareness helps you manage challenging situations more effectively during the holiday season. 

Continuity in Treatment

The holiday season can be hectic, but remember to prioritize your recovery. This means continuing with your treatment plan—staying in touch with your nutritionist, attending therapy sessions, and sticking to prescribed routines. Ensuring continuity in treatment provides a steady support system that is vital during this potentially stressful time.

Open Communication

Honest and open communication with close friends and family is key. Let them know about your concerns and any specific challenges you anticipate during the holiday season. Sharing your feelings and fears not only fosters understanding but also ensures that you have a supportive environment where you feel seen and heard.

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries with loved ones is a crucial aspect of maintaining your recovery during the holidays. Clearly communicate your needs—this can include requesting certain conversation topics be avoided, or asking for modifications in holiday traditions to make them more comfortable for you.

Stress Management Techniques

The holiday season can bring about additional stress and heightened emotions. It’s important to have effective strategies to manage stress and prioritize self-care. Here are some stress management techniques to consider:

  • Practicing Self-Care

    • Prioritize self-care during the holiday season to effectively manage stress. Include activities that promote relaxation and well-being in your holiday plans, such as taking soothing baths, practicing deep breathing exercises, or indulging in a hobby you enjoy. Making time for self-care helps alleviate stress and promotes a sense of balance.
  • Setting Realistic Expectations

    • The holidays often come with a long list of expectations. Therefore, it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself. Recognize that you don’t have to be perfect or do it all on your own. Focus on what truly matters and let go of unnecessary pressures. Embrace the imperfect moments and allow yourself to enjoy the holiday season without striving for perfection.
  • Establishing Boundaries

    • Set clear boundaries to protect your mental and emotional well-being. Learn to say no when necessary and prioritize your own needs. Communicate your boundaries to others and assertively express what you’re comfortable with during holiday gatherings. By establishing boundaries, you create a safe space for yourself and maintain a healthy balance.
  • Practicing Mindfulness

    • Integrate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine. Mindfulness involves being completely present in the moment, observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Including mindfulness practices, such as meditation or mindful eating into your holiday routine, can help reduce stress and increase self-awareness, enabling you to make conscious choices that support your recovery.
  • Seeking Support

    • Reach out to your support network when you feel overwhelmed. Share your feelings with a friend, family member, or therapist who understands your journey. Talking openly about your experiences can provide comfort and valuable insights. Keep in mind, you don’t have to face the challenges alone – support is available to you.

By implementing these stress management techniques, you can navigate the holiday season with greater ease and maintain your focus on recovery. 

Prioritize self-care, establish boundaries, practice mindfulness, and seek support when needed.

Preparing an Exit Strategy

When in recovery from disordered eating during the holiday season, it’s important to be prepared with an exit strategy in case you find yourself feeling triggered at a holiday gathering. 

Having a plan in place and rehearsing what you’ll say will enable you to properly prioritize your recovery and well-being. 

Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave an event early if it is necessary for your mental and emotional health.

Sharing Responsibilities

Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks and share responsibilities with family members or friends during the holiday season.

You don’t have to take on all the burdens of hosting or organizing holiday events alone.

Asking for support and assistance not only lightens your load but also allows you to prioritize self-care and focus on your recovery journey.

Practicing Gratitude

When in recovery from eating disorders, having a sense of gratitude can positively impact your overall health and well-being during the holidays or any other part of the year for that matter.

Take time each day to reflect on the things you are personally thankful for, regardless of how small they may seem.

Practicing daily gratitude can significantly help change your perspective and bring positivity into your life, especially during the holiday season.

Sticking to Your Meal Plan

It’s crucial to stick to your normal eating disorder meal plan, even during the holiday season. Avoid skipping meals or restricting food in anticipation of a larger holiday feast. 

Following your meal plan provides structure and helps maintain a balanced approach to holiday nutrition and nourishment.

Recognizing Hunger and Fullness Cues

Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, particularly when attending holiday parties or events. 

Be mindful of your own needs and give yourself permission to enjoy the holiday food without guilt or judgment. Be mindful that your body knows best when it comes to its own nourishment.

Self-Compassion and Kindness

Be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion throughout the holiday season. If you make a mistake or have a lapse, don’t beat yourself up. 

Recovery from eating disorders is a personal journey, and setbacks may happen. 

Treat yourself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness as you navigate this challenging time.

Embracing the Joy of Holidays

Amidst the daily recovery and holiday challenges, it’s essential to seek out moments of joy, connection, and celebration during the season. 

Embrace all the positive aspects that nourish your spirit such as participating in holiday traditions, spending quality time with loved ones, or engaging in activities that bring you happiness.  

Allow yourself to experience all of the joy that this time of year can bring. 

FAQs About the Holidays and Eating Disorders 

How can I handle comments about food or my body during holiday gatherings?

It’s important to set boundaries and communicate your needs. Politely but assertively let others know that comments about food or your body are not helpful or supportive. Redirect the conversation to more positive topics or ask for their understanding in refraining from such discussions.

How can I manage anxiety around holiday meals or buffets?

Planning can help. Consider reviewing the menu or buffet options beforehand, identifying safe and enjoyable food choices. Practice mindful eating by savoring each bite and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. 

It is okay to take breaks and engage in conversations to alleviate anxiety.

What can I do if holiday events trigger negative body image thoughts?

Remind yourself of your progress and the reasons why recovery is important to you. Surround yourself with supportive individuals who focus on your qualities beyond appearance. Engage in positive self-talk and challenge negative thoughts by emphasizing your unique worth and the growth you’ve achieved in your recovery journey.

How do I handle unsolicited advice or comments from well-meaning family members?

Educate your loved ones about your recovery process and explain that unsolicited advice can be triggering. Kindly express your gratitude for their concern while firmly setting boundaries regarding the type of support you need. Encourage open and respectful communication, emphasizing that you have a treatment team guiding your recovery.

What can I do if holiday traditions involve triggering behaviors or situations?

Consider modifying or creating new traditions that align with your recovery goals. Discuss alternatives with your loved ones, focusing on activities that foster connection, gratitude, and joy without compromising your well-being. 

Prioritize your recovery and make choices that support your mental and emotional health.

How can I manage social pressure to indulge in holiday treats or restrict my eating?

Everyone’s relationship with food is different. Focus on honoring your own needs and preferences without comparing yourself to others. Practice self-advocacy and make choices that align with your recovery goals. Remind yourself that your worth is not determined by what or how much you eat.

What can I do if I feel guilty after enjoying holiday meals or treats?

Guilt around food is common, but it’s important to challenge and reframe those thoughts. Remind yourself that food is meant to be enjoyed, and holiday treats are part of a balanced approach to eating. Practice self-compassion and remind yourself that enjoyment and nourishment go hand in hand.

How can I handle family members who may not understand or support my recovery during the holidays?

Educate your family members about eating disorders and your recovery journey. Share information about the importance of support and understanding. If needed, seek additional support from a therapist or support group to help navigate challenging family dynamics. Surround yourself with a network of individuals who are knowledgeable and supportive of your recovery.

How do I manage the fear of weight gain during the holiday season?

Weight fluctuations are a normal part of life and recovery. Try to focus on your overall well-being rather than solely on your weight. Shift your focus to positive aspects of the holiday season, such as connecting with loved ones or engaging in meaningful activities. Trust the process of your recovery and prioritize self-care concerns.


Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the Challenge of Holidays:
    • Holidays can be challenging for individuals in eating disorder recovery due to the focus on food, festivities, and potential stressors.
    • Recognize that these challenges can be managed with the right strategies and mindset.
    • Embrace the holiday season as an opportunity for personal growth and celebration of progress.
  • Effective Strategies for the Holiday Season:
    • Identify triggers that may lead to relapse and develop coping strategies to manage them.
    • Maintain continuity in your treatment plan and prioritize your recovery.
    • Foster open communication with loved ones to create a supportive environment.
    • Set boundaries to protect your well-being and communicate your needs effectively.
  • Stress Management Techniques:
    • Practice self-care to manage stress and promote well-being.
    • Set realistic expectations for yourself and embrace imperfections.
    • Establish boundaries to maintain balance and protect your mental and emotional health.
    • Incorporate mindfulness practices to reduce stress and make conscious choices.
    • Seek support from your network to alleviate feelings of overwhelm.
  • Preparing an Exit Strategy and Sharing Responsibilities:
    • Plan an exit strategy to prioritize your well-being in triggering situations.
    • Delegate tasks and share responsibilities with others to lighten your load.
  • Practicing Gratitude, Sticking to Your Meal Plan, and Recognizing Hunger and Fullness Cues:
    • Cultivate gratitude to shift your perspective and find positivity.
    • Stick to your meal plan to maintain balance and nourish your body.
    • Pay attention to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness and practice intuitive eating.
  • Self-Compassion and Kindness:
    • Practice self-compassion and forgive yourself for setbacks.
    • Treat yourself with kindness and understanding throughout the holiday season.
  • Embracing the Joy of Holidays:
    • Seek out moments of joy, connection, and celebration.
    • Engage in activities that bring happiness and align with your recovery goals.

Navigating the holiday season while in eating disorder recovery can be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible to maintain progress and find joy during this time. This comprehensive guide has provided valuable insights and practical tips to help individuals in recovery and their loved ones navigate the unique challenges of the holiday season.

As a leading provider of eating disorder treatment, Alsana® understands the complexities of the holiday season for those in recovery. Our specialized programs and compassionate care team can provide the support and guidance needed to navigate this challenging time. Whether it’s through individual therapy, group support, nutritional counseling, or family therapy,  we are committed to helping individuals maintain their recovery during the holidays and beyond.

By understanding the challenges of the holiday season, implementing effective strategies, managing stress, practicing self-care, setting boundaries, and embracing the joy of the holidays, individuals can approach this time with confidence and resilience.

Recovery is a journey, and with the right tools and support, individuals can navigate the holiday season while staying committed to their recovery goals.

If you or someone you know needs support during the holiday season or throughout the recovery journey, contact us for comprehensive and compassionate eating disorder treatment.  

Together, we can overcome the challenges and find hope, healing, and joy during the holiday season and beyond.

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