Coping With an Eating Disorder During the Holidays

By Alexa Rivera

Getting Ready for the Holidays

When you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, the holiday season can present unique challenges and obstacles. On one hand, the holiday season is meant to bring joy, peace and excitement, but on the other it comes with an emphasis on food and social gatherings, which can bring concerns about holiday weight gain, fear foods and New Year resolution diet talk. Here are some ways to cope with an eating disorder during the holidays and make your season a little brighter. 


Practice self-compassion 

The holidays can be a wonderful time to bond with our loved ones, but they don’t come without stress. It’s easy to become hung up on having the perfect holiday: being a gracious host or guest, taking flawless photos or finding the perfect gift. It can become a weight on our shoulders and make the holidays more difficult than they otherwise would be — and that’s before an eating disorder even enters the mix. It’s important that you exercise self-compassion during the holidays and remind yourself that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.  


Set solid boundaries 

With the holidays come a lot of food and as a consequence many people around the holiday table will discuss winter weight gain, dieting and plans for exercise in the new year. You also might not regularly see the people who you spend time with during the holidays, and that can cause people to make statements about your appearance or comment about how much you’ve changed. The holidays are a perfect time to practice or reinforce your boundaries:  

  • When and how you eat 

  • What types of conversations you’re willing to have 

  • How you’ll respond to comments about your appearance or food choices 


Have a holiday coping plan 

Thankfully holidays happen around the same time every year, which allows you to prep yourself beforehand. Work with your treatment team to discuss what foods you will eat and which fear foods you might want to try this year. 

An eating disorder can be isolating, so it’s also important to decide which events you will or won’t attend, and come up with non-food related ways to celebrate this time of year: 

  • Holiday decorating 

  • Viewing holiday light displays 

  • Ice skating or other winter sports 

  • Religious services 

  • Volunteering 

It’s also important to put yourself in the right mindset as you enter the holiday season. Remind yourself that food is fuel and there are no "bad" foods. Every food provides some form of nutrition, and it’s okay to eat the foods you enjoy or feel satisfaction after eating.  

You might also think about the cultural significance of food during the holidays. Many holiday foods have cultural significance and are a way to connect with your ethnic or religious group. There is nothing bad about celebrating your culture with food – no matter how much or little you participate. 

There are other ways to plan: 

  • If you’re early in recovery and have a meal plan, sticking to it might be your best option and eating beforehand can help maintain your regimen  

  • Don’t overpromise, if you think an event or party might become too stressful, let the hosts know beforehand that you might only be able to stay for a little while 


Don’t be afraid to ask for help 

A lot of individuals with an eating disorder report isolating themselves from others, and this can make the holidays lonely. Remember that there are people who love you and want to support you through your recovery. One way is to have a designated family member or friend as a support person during holiday meals.  

It’s also important to remember to keep up with any therapy sessions, support groups or dietician appointments during this time to maintain your recovery. Even though the holidays can be very busy, there is no better gift to yourself than the gift of recovery — nothing is more important than your health.  

If you find that you’re having an especially hard time this season, it might be best to re-enter treatment, especially if you’re experiencing severe medical complications as a result of your eating disorder. It’s vital that you receive care as quickly as possible, and you should never delay care until after the holidays. While the decision to enter re-enter treatment is difficult and stressful, it is one of the most important decisions you can make. Entering treatment now makes celebrating the many holidays to come possible. While it might seem like a holiday in inpatient care would be miserable, but there are ways you can bring the holiday cheer with you. 

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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