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How to Survive the Holidays While in Eating Disorder Recovery


The holiday season can cause a heightened sense of stress in the face of an overwhelming schedule of events, frustrating family situations and a constant focus on food.

During the holidays, eating disorder treatment professionals report seeing an increase in eating-disordered thoughts, behaviors and relapse in patients.

Stress and the Holidays

The holiday season is a stressful time for everyone. People have to deal with the anxiety from traveling, holiday preparations, family gatherings and shopping. However, for people in eating disorder recovery, dealing with the seasonal stress can be more difficult than for the rest of us. This is because individuals battling eating disorders experience higher levels of anxiety. Additionally, while some of us may turn to a hot bubble bath or a day at the spa to relax, those who struggle with eating disordered thoughts turn to starvation, binge eating, purging or over-exercising to cope with stress when things get too overwhelming.

The holidays can also be especially hard on these individuals because there is often more pressure to be perfect and to please others. A person struggling with an eating disorder has a predisposition toward heightened anxiety that is closely tied to perfectionism, overachieving and people-pleasing. It is for these reasons that the holidays can compel those in recovery to revert back to worrisome thoughts and behaviors in an effort to manage their anxious feelings.

Battling Holiday Stress

If you are trying to battle the stress of the holidays and stay on track with your recovery, here are some tips that can help you through these stressful days:

  1. Create a holiday schedule carefully and plan ahead of time. If you are going to engage in the holiday festivities, remember to plan things out and to leave plenty of room for changes and for the unpredictable. However, remember that you don't have to attend every holiday party or be part of a gift exchange to get in the holiday spirit. If these things stress you out, choose your health and well-being over external obligations. Be realistic about what you can manage and don't be hard on yourself if you opt out of the festivities.
  2. Shift the focus away from food, and remember what's important: family and friends. The holidays can be full of delicacies and food, and it can be hard to eat in moderation. If the the overabundance of food and large meals causes anxiety, try to think about the true meaning of the holidays and focus on meaningful interactions with family and friends. Focus on togetherness and becoming closer to your loved ones.
  3. Look to your support network for extra help.Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and who understand your disorder. Stay in touch with your outpatient treatment professionals like your psychiatrist, therapist and dietitian. Don't be afraid to discuss your feelings, victories and challenges, as it is essential to talk through them before they begin affecting your recovery process.
  4. Remember to be kind to yourself. If and when things go wrong, ignore your self critic and accept that not everything can go as planned. Remind yourself that one perceived misstep does not make or break your recovery progress. Be proud of yourself for making an effort and for standing back up again.