Celebrating New Year’s Eve with an Eating Disorder

By Alexa Rivera

Eating Disorders & New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is a night to celebrate the conclusion of the year and ring in a new one. It’s the last night in a string of winter that can be triggering for those living with eating disorders. Some people with eating disorders, particularly those suffering with co-occurring substance use issues, may find New Year’s Eve very challenging due to the holiday’s focus on drinking and partying. Here are a few ways to enjoy New Year’s Eve:

Find a Balance

December 31st is right on the cusp between two years and for some can feel like a high-stake night, which can exacerbate cognitive distortions like all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking can express itself in a number of ways on NYE, but for many it manifests as a “now or never” mentality.

Some may want to be perfect right until the last second of the new year—it’s now or never—excessively regulating what they do or eat to the point they’re sacrificing time with friends or their enjoyment of the holiday to maintain a certain standard until midnight. Others may see this as an opportunity to take risks or “go big” before they reign themselves in during the new year. It’s now or never—the last opportunity to binge or purge before they begin their recovery in the new year.

It’s important to find your own balance during New Year’s Eve. While it’s perfectly natural to hit roadblocks throughout your recovery, we encourage you to find ways to combat cognitive distortions and cope with negative thoughts so you can still enjoy the holiday while embracing recovery.

It’s more likely than not that you will be largely the same when you wake up on January 1st. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint and as such you will have days that you struggle even though you “got it out of your system.”

Remember You’re Human

New Year’s Eve feels like it holds a lot of weight. It’s the last day of the year and tomorrow will be the first; it feels very important and symbolic. With that comes a lot of expectations, which can come with guilt as you think that you haven’t done enough, haven’t achieved enough or haven’t done as well as you wished you did this year.

Practicing self-compassion is crucial. Remind yourself that you’re only human. You made mistakes, but also had many successes. There were times you were disappointed with yourself, but also times you were shocked by your own strength and resilience. Everything that happened the past year has already happened. Try to accept that and use your energy thinking about what you’ll do next instead.

Monitor Alcohol Intake

Alcohol is one of the central components of New Year’s Eve, identified by a signature champagne toast as the clock strikes midnight. Many house parties, clubs, bars, and dance halls offer open bar packages or complimentary drinks that are hard to resist, which can lead to overdrinking in those who have co-occurring substance use disorder. Depending on where you are in your recovery, it might be better to try to abstain or drink in moderation.

Since alcohol can trigger disordered eating, exacerbate medical complications or psychiatric symptoms and interact with medication, it’s important that those who are in early recovery or who were recently hospitalized for their eating disorder discuss any alcohol consumption with their treatment team.

If you struggle with substance use disorder or find yourself unable to drink in moderation, alcohol and events where alcohol is present should be avoided and substance abuse counseling in addition to eating disorder treatment may be necessary.

For those further in eating disorder recovery and who do not have problematic substance use, you may want to start practicing drinking alcohol in moderation. You can set a drink limit, space out drinks or refrain from hard alcohol and share this with your group so they can hold you accountable.

Alcohol Consumption

Understanding the levels of alcohol consumption can be a great tool as you enjoy your night out and set limits for yourself. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol consumption is divided into three levels:

  • Moderate drinking: limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women.
  • Binge drinking: a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (men), or 4 or more drinks (women), in about 2 hours.
  • Heavy Drinking: drinking more than four drinks on any day or more than fourteen drinks per week (men) or drinking more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week (women)

Enjoy a Sober New Year’s Eve

While a lot of NYE events involve alcohol, you can still find ways to join the night without it being entirely centered around drinking. There are many ways to celebrate without having to drink.

Stay Home

Avoid all the fuss of the night by staying in by yourself or with the company of just a partner or a pet. Take this time to reflect on all the progress you’ve made in the past year, what you’ve learned and what you’re grateful for. Think about what you look forward to in the new year and how you can apply what you’ve learned this year. You can also try:

  • New Year journaling: Write about your experiences in the past 12 months
  • Gratitude journaling: List all of the things you’ve been grateful for this year
  • Make art: Make art based off of your experiences or how you feel
  • Make a vision board: Make a collage or a physical or digital vision board for next year
  • Make a scrapbook: Summarize the last year with pictures and keepsakes from the last year

Party Sober

Maybe you want to stay home, but still want all the fun and glamour of hosting a NYE party. In that case you can host a sober event for all your friends, with the same essence of New Year’s Eve just without all the alcohol, by mixing up mocktails. Replace your champagne toast with some sparkling apple cider or grape juice and from the outside no one would be able to tell it is a dry event.

Host an Activity

New Year’s Eve doesn’t have to be all about dancing and drinking, invite your friends over for an activity. It can be anything you can think of, but here are some ideas:

  • Game night
  • Painting session
  • Movie marathon
  • Murder mystery
  • Spa night

See a New Year Display

Cities around the world have New Year displays at midnight, like ball drops, light shows and fireworks. Whether you stay local or even travel to a different country, NYE displays can be a fun way to celebrate without having to go to a party at all.

Embrace Your Culture

In the United States, there are a few traditions that get the spotlight on New Year’s Eve and January 1st, like the champagne toast, wearing sparkles, ball drops, eating ham and sharing your resolutions. But there are so many other ways to celebrate the holiday that are both alcohol-free and removed from American tradition. Look within yourself and your family history to embrace traditions that you may have overlooked or take this time to learn more about the ones you know and love.


Alcathons (or Alkathons) are sober celebrations during the holidays or other high-stress occasions that are specifically designed for those struggling with alcohol use disorder. Alcathons provide a safe, sober environment where participants can lean on each other for support. Alcathons usually run for 24 hours, with intermittent meetings and activities throughout the day. They can be the perfect option for those having a particularly difficult time remaining sober during the holidays.  

Set Realistic Recovery Goals

Throughout the night you’ll probably be thinking about the next year, so it’s important to also learn how to set realistic and achievable goals. Instead of giving yourself lofty and abstract goals, make sure your goals are reasonable and measurable.

Get the Help You Need

Eating disorders can be isolating illnesses, which can cause people to retreat during the holidays. Remember that you have loved ones who want to support you and help you reach your goals. You have a treatment team that wants to help you when you struggle and wants to see you thrive.

If you find yourself struggling, make sure you’re keeping up with your therapy appointments, attending support groups and/or touching base with your dietician. If you find that you’re overwhelmed with the holidays, that might be a sign to re-enter treatment. If you’re experiencing severe medical complications, it’s important that you receive care as soon as possible. Do not delay care until the new year. Even though this time of year can be very busy, there is no better way to start the year than with your health at the forefront.

Even though this time of year can be difficult, especially for those struggling with co-occurring substance use disorders, there are many ways to make this time of year easier on yourself while still being able to ring in the new year with joy, content and a clear mind.

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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