Eating Disorders & the Holidays

Monday, Nov 09  •  


For many individuals, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. It is a time to gather with family and friends, catch up on each other’s lives, and share a few laughs. For most people, highlights of the holiday season include the food and sitting down to enjoy a traditional holiday meal. For someone dealing with an eating disorder, the holidays can be painful and difficult to enjoy. For individuals with an eating disorder, the holidays can bring stress, anxiety, and fear. 

It is common for people who suffer from an eating disorder to experience an increase in symptoms of their illness as the holiday season approaches. This may be due to stress over the impending festivities and/or anticipation of the presence of undesired food in the weeks to come. It is common for these individuals to set unrealistic goals to lose weight prior to the holidays, believing that they will then be allowed to eat like everyone else. In reality, this approach rarely works and the eating disorder reasserts itself during family time. 

Mentally preparing for the challenges that lie ahead by developing healthy behaviors and traditions that are worth keeping year-round may help boost our health and happiness. Here are some tips for giving and receiving support this upcoming holiday season, whether you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder.

For those currently suffering from an eating disorder:

  • Be mindful of the holidays and the fact that they are not for just eating. Take time to reflect on the significance of being present with loved ones and shift the focus away from food.
  • Have a “buddy” that you can check in with during difficult times or help you if you begin to struggle or panic. Knowing that there is someone who can help through tough times can be extremely powerful.
  • Be honest with your family and friends about your worries and concerns. Having an open and honest dialogue can make others aware of the complexity of eating disorders, especially around the holidays.

For those currently in recovery:

  • Discuss your holiday anticipations with your treatment team so that they can help you with potential stressors and triggers and enact a plan for coping and overcoming. Preparing for stressful situations and working on strategies beforehand can help you not fall into self-destructive patterns.
  • Stick to your prescribed recovery program. Structure your day so that you can keep to the recovery disciplines and actions, especially when it comes to scheduled meal times.
  • Avoid “overstressing” and “overbooking” yourself. Cut down on unnecessary obligations to give yourself time for relaxation and renewal.

For those with a loved one suffering from an eating disorder:

  • Offer support and words of encouragement. Ask specifically how you can help them cope with the stressors of the holidays and assist them with their treatment and recovery.
  • Be respectful of the individual’s recovery process. Let them know that you understand and are there to support them.

During the holiday season, it is so important to prioritize your physical and mental health. Self-care is not selfish, it allows you to be more present in your relationships and serve others because you are taken care of. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, do not be afraid to ask for help.