How to Manage Eating Disorder Recovery During Holidays and Celebrations
By Lauren Krouse
Holidays and celebrations can bring a lot of joy, but they can also disrupt your routine, dial up the pressure to be happy, and cause a lot of stress—especially when you’re managing an eating disorder.
You may be away from the routines of work and school, spending the holidays alone, or worrying about stressful situations like a party full of special occasion food and desserts or food-centric traditions like fasting or feasting. There’s also a lot of pressure to be social and look a certain way on social media.
No matter your situation, these challenges can bring up a flurry of difficult emotions, such as anxiety, stress, sadness, depression, and loneliness. All that can make it harder not to turn to old disordered eating patterns to cope.
You’re not alone if you feel more dread than cheer as the big day—or week—approaches, but you can maintain your recovery and stay on track with a little help. One of the best things you can do for yourself is plan ahead. Here’s how.
Make a List of Potential Triggers
Take a moment to acknowledge what you’re worried about. Ask yourself: What situations, people, or foods could be triggering for me? Write or type them out, such as:
- There’s going to be a lot of food and pressure to eat at this family gathering, and I’m worried about binge-eating.
- I want to respect my family’s traditions, but how can I do that and also stick with my meal plan?
- I know [insert relative] is going to say something about my weight, and that tends to really upset me. What if I spiral?
- I’m worried about being expected to eat foods that make me feel uncomfortable or stressed out. How can I deal with new or different foods?
Activate Your Support System
With help from your care team or a trusted adult, come up with ways you plan to cope with each trigger. It can be helpful, for example, to think of people in advance who you’d trust to support you in the moment. Contact them before the event and make sure they are able and willing to be there for you during the anticipated triggers. You might:
- Talk to a trusted family member about stepping outside together if you give them a signal, such as a foot tap under the table, gentle nudge, or text.
- Ask a close friend if they’re free to answer texts or video chat during a holiday party.
- Have someone on your care team ready for a call before, during, or after an event.
- Save the number 741-741 in your phone. If you’d prefer to get support discreetly, you can text HEALING to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor at any time.
Weave in Self-Care
Self-care often takes a hit during holidays and celebrations, but now is the time you could use some extra TLC to help find your center and ease stress. You know best what works for you. If you could use some suggestions, however, consider these:
- Take deep breaths or do a guided meditation before an event.
- Plan relaxing activities such as watching your favorite holiday movies or listening to comforting music.
- Prioritize quality time with people and pets who help boost your energy and mood.
- Plan wind-down activities, such as taking a long bath, reading, journaling, or practicing gratitude.
- Set gentle reminders on your phone for self-care. A routine can be grounding and ensure you don’t neglect the most important person: you.
Be Kind to Yourself
Self-compassion—extending to yourself the same compassion you’d give others—can help you relax, combat stress and anxiety, and recover from setbacks more quickly. It can be difficult or awkward at first, but giving yourself a little grace can make a big difference during hard times.
A few ways you can put self-compassion into practice:
- Set realistic expectations and goals with your care team to try to let go of perfectionism and the stress it can cause.
- Ask your therapist how you can respond to negative self-talk by acknowledging and reframing the thought, such as: “I know I’m going to mess this up!” → “I’m worried I’m going to mess up, which makes sense because I’m going to face some triggers. But I have a plan and I know what to do. If I mess up, I can ask for help to get back on track again.”
- Remember: You’re not alone in this. One in 10 people are living with an eating disorder, and it’s normal and OK to struggle with triggers and symptoms. You’re an immensely strong person, you are always doing your very best, and you deserve the same care and support you’d give anyone else.