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Getting Through the Holidays When You Have an ED

The dinner table can become a big source of stress for those of us with eating disorders or who’re currently in recovery. In the third post in our holiday series, I’ve rounded up some excellent advice on eating and having stress-free (or at least less stressful) Christmas and New Year celebrations. These tips also are helpful for anyone with disordered eating or body image issues.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) lists twelve pointers for negotiating the holidays. Below is an excerpt. You can see the rest of the list here.

Eat regularly and in some kind of reasonable pattern. Avoid “preparing for the last supper.” Don’t skip meals and starve in attempt to make up for what you recently ate or are about to eat. Keep a regular and moderate pattern.

Worry more about the size of your heart than the size of your hips! It is the holiday season, a great time to reflect, enjoy relationships with loved ones, and most importantly a time to feel gratitude for blessings received and a time to give back through loving service to others.

Have a well thought out game plan before you go home or invite others into your home. Know “where the exits are,” where your support persons are, and how you’ll know when it’s time to make a brief exit and get connected with needed support.

Write down your vision of where you would like your mind and heart to be during this holiday time with loved ones. Take time, several times per day, to find a quiet place to become in tune again with your vision, to remember, to nurture, and to center yourself into those thoughts, feelings, and actions which are congruent with your vision for yourself.

A few from The Center for Eating Disorders at Shepphard Pratt. You can read the rest here and here.

Remember that there are no “good” or “bad” foods, even at a holiday meal, but be prepared for others to make comments about food, weight gain/loss and diets during holiday gatherings. Decide how you will respond if this happens. A range of responses could include a silent mantra that you say to yourself in your head or a public comment that educates others about normal eating and positive body image.  Ask yourself which type of response will be most benefical for your own personal well-being and use that as a guide.

When it’s time for the meal, try to sit near people with whom you feel comfortable and supported. If this isn’t possible, try to avoid sitting directly by those who will make the meal more challenging.

*Are you hosting? Use crafty name cards to subtly “announce” seating arrangements that place your positive support people near you and your most triggering family members further away during the meal.

Don’t leave home without your toolbox – If you’ve established coping skills that work when you’re feeling overwhelmed or having thoughts of acting on your eating disorder – be sure to pack a travel-friendly version!  If writing in your journal or listening to a special playlist on your iPod helps you, then throw them in the suitcase! This will also help to maintain some normalcy during the hectic holiday schedule.

Don’t forget to breathe! – This may sound simple, but it is sound advice. Breathing affects the whole body. When you take a few seconds to breathe slowly and deeply, even in a stressful situation, you can actually produce a state of relaxation. Try the following:

• Sit as tall as possible with your feet flat on the floor, and try to take your mind off of the stressful situation or activities around you.

• Take a slow, deep breath in (your stomach should expand as it fills with air)while counting to three.

• Hold your breath for a count of three.

• Exhale slowly (your stomach should contract) while counting to three.

• Repeat this whole sequence three times.

Now check in with yourself.  Are you feeling a little better? If so, return to the activity around you.  If not, take a little more time out to repeat the process or try another one of the coping skills listed above.

Rachel from The F-Word included tips that have helped her (entire post here).

For people with binge eating disorder or bulimia, it can be difficult to survey the holiday feast knowing that you can easily eat it all twice over and then some. If you struggle with intuitive eating and are concerned about taking unnaturally large portion sizes, take cues from the serving sizes of others around you. Don’t make any food off-limits and don’t eat alone.

If you struggle with binging types of disorders, distract yourself after eating so that you’ll be less likely to purge. Check out my more general tips on how to reduce binging urges here.

The holidays are a time to catch up with friends and family you don’t see often and reunions can sometimes invite comments on your appearance, especially if it’s notably different. Again, changing the subject or walking away usually works, as does speaking up — “You’re making me feel very self-conscious. Please stop.” Sometimes the comments are well-intentioned, in which case assuaging the worries of your loved ones can quell concerns and comments — “I’m working with a professional to better improve my health. Thanks for the concern.” For people on the opposite end of the weight spectrum, even loved ones can be cruel in pointing out weight gain. Humor is a great way to diffuse an awkward and tension-filled moment, so be sure to check out these clever quips from Joy Nash. And don’t be afraid to be honest — “Wow, that was a rude comment.”

And here are a few tips from Weightless

Read inspiring stories. When everything seems tougher, it helps to read inspiring stories of individuals who’ve been there and who’ve recovered. In addition to the Q&As on Weightless, I highly recommend the stories on NEDA’s website here.

Adjust your great expectations. Many of us, regardless of family issues and what happened at last year’s holiday party, still have rose-colored expectations. We think that this year things will go off without a hitch. Our brother won’t comment on our appearance. Our aunt won’t start an argument about…well, just about anything. Our cousin won’t talk about her latest diet. Our (fill in the blank), and so on. Though it may seem easier said than done, going in with realistic expectations and having a plan about how you’re going to react should similar things happen can save you tons of stress. It doesn’t mean you’re the Grinch of the family. It just means you’ve prepared yourself emotionally and won’t be disappointed if things don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped.

Let go of perfection – as best as you can. There’s no such thing as the perfect present. I struggle with being an imperfect perfectionist a lot. Which usually means that I procrastinate and end up getting stressed along the way. Sure, it’s only a few days till Christmas, but if you don’t have that perfect present, decor, outfit, or whatever, give yourself permission to be imperfect. Welcome flexibility, even with baby steps.

Be kind to yourself. You know that holidays are a struggle for you and you’ll do the best you can. Whatever you do this holiday season, let it come from a place of kindness and self-acceptance. Accept that whatever plan you have in place, you may still get stressed or have anxiety around food and certain family members. Just acknowledge that you’re trying and be proud of yourself for that. Remember to take care of yourself and your needs, too, instead of getting lost in the hustle and bustle. If that means taking ten minutes to do some yoga poses, write in your journal, take a longer shower or call a friend for support, go for it. And remember to enjoy yourself, as well.

Additional Resources

Managing eating disorders during the holidays from the UNC Eating Disorders Program

Survival tips from a woman recovering from an eating disorder

More tips from Mirror-Mirror and what Happy Holidays really stands for

How will you negoitate the dinner table this year and deal with potentially stressful moments? Any tips you’d like to add to the above?

Getting Through the Holidays When You Have an ED

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Getting Through the Holidays When You Have an ED. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2019
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