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How to thrive during the holidays while recovering from an eating disorder

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The holidays are just around the corner, and given the rollout of vaccines earlier this year, it may be the first time that families are gathering since COVID-19 hit the United States. For some, the rebirth of the holiday season may be a silver lining in the otherwise devastating human toll this deadly pandemic has taken. But the notion of seeing family, and being in front of so much food, can be stressful for many people, especially those recovering from an eating disorder.

No matter what or how you celebrate, there are a few things all holidays generally have in common: family or friends, get-togethers and, of course, food. In addition, holidays can have a lot of associated expectations and be reminders of people, places and situations that can be painful. All in all, holidays can bring up a lot of varied emotions. If you are recovering from an eating disorder, here are some tips on how to thrive, not just survive, during this anxiety-inducing time.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
November 18, 2021
March 15, 2023
How to thrive during the holidays while recovering from an eating disorder
In this article

8 tips for the holidays 

1. Start a morning ritual of self-care

You want to set yourself on a healthy trajectory heading into the holidays by practicing a morning self-care ritual leading up to your family gathering. What you decide to integrate into your routine depends on what works best for you, but what’s important is that you commit to doing it every morning. Some common examples include yoga, meditation, journaling, and gratitude practices.

2. Nourish your body leading up to the holidays

You may feel compelled to restrict your calories leading up to a big holiday feast, but dieting before a large meal can lead to dysregulation and disordered eating behaviors, such as binging. In preparation for the holidays, try working towards staying mindful, self-aware and committed to good self care. Provide yourself with nourishing meals and consistently stick to your normal eating routine whenever possible so you may navigate this possibly triggering situation.

3. Create a support plan

One way to help you thrive during the holidays is to establish a support plan for when you are triggered. This plan may include coping strategies like reaching out to supportive people or your therapist, reaching out to a virtual care team, practicing positive self-talk, or engaging in healthy distractions like reading or listening to music.

4. Have an exit plan in place

Creating an exit plan may be beneficial to your self-care practice. The holidays can be extremely overwhelming, and sometimes you may need to take a break to re-focus or gather yourself. Ask your family where the holiday meal and celebrations will take place so you can figure out a calm location to go to ahead of time in the event the situation becomes unhealthy.

5. Seek support from your recovery community

Being around loved ones who may not understand your struggles can be an isolating experience. Leading up to and during the holidays, it’s important to seek support from trusted members of your recovery community. They’re there to lift you up, validate your feelings, and listen with a nonjudgmental ear. Let your family know that you are focused on your self care through the holidays and that this may mean at times placing self-care above social expectations.

6. Approach every meal with mindfulness and pleasure

While a surviving mentality may involve figuring out how to get through a meal, a thriving mindset empowers you to approach every meal with pleasure and mindfulness. Nourishing your body should be a joyful experience. And prioritizing mindful eating means you are present and grounded in the moment without judgment before, during, or after eating. This can greatly reduce stress related to complex eating situations, as well as promote gratitude and feelings of well-being.

7. Practice self-compassion and radical self-acceptance 

Eating disorder recovery is not a straight-forward path—there are often ups and downs and bumps in the road. If you slip up and return to disordered eating, respond with kindness, forgiveness, and a nonjudgmental attitude. This is known as self-compassion, and it can alleviate the shame and guilt you may feel related to eating disorder behaviors. Similarly, radical self-acceptance allows you to accept your reality, including your struggles.

8. Focus on what leads to fulfillment

Although food is a large component of most, if not all holidays, it doesn’t have to be your only center point. If cooking is not your thing, you may want to find opportunities to help with other tasks, such as running errands, decorating, taking care of children, or anything else that brings you joy.

Of course, food is what brings everyone to the table, and embracing the joy and pleasure of meals can be a part of a holiday experience, but we also want to remind ourselves that holidays are also about connecting with loved ones, for some people spiritual or religious meaning, and (hopefully) also taking a break now and then. So try to focus on what the holidays are really about: connecting with your loved ones.

A mentality of thriving instead of surviving

Much of the language associated with eating disorder recovery is centered around the concept of surviving triggering situations, such as the holidays. And while this language is not only valid but oftentimes, accurate, considering the life-threatening nature of eating disorders, it’s time to change the recovery narrative to one of thriving.

To thrive during eating disorder recovery means to grow and flourish, to learn how to be proactive in how you protect and arm yourself. Thriving means preparing for potential stressors and triggers as opposed to simply reacting to them when they arise. If you are always reacting to various negative emotions or situations that arise, it can feel like you’re scrambling to keep up. But when you take a proactive stance and make a self-care plan, you are choosing yourself. And what could be more empowering than that?

Within Health has revolutionized eating disorder treatment by creating a virtual program where you can connect with your clinical care team from home, or on the go. Our app gives people the flexibility to receive care wherever they need it, including when they are home for the holidays. If you are looking for compassionate care for disordered eating, call our clinical care team to find out how to get started.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.



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