Navigating the holidays – like food and family – can be tough, especially if you’re struggling to recover from an eating disorder or other eating or body image issues.

Last week, I talked with Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel about some great ideas for having a wonderful holiday. Specifically, we spoke about navigating “healthy” eating adviceenjoying a fat-talk-free holiday and overcoming overeating.

Today, I’m pleased to present my interview with eating disorder specialist and clinical psychologist Sarah Brotsky, Ph.D, who offers more insight into coping and enjoying the holidays.

You can learn more about Sarah and her work here.

Q: The holidays can bring a variety of stressors, including a hectic schedule and potential family conflict. What are some ways individuals who are struggling to recover from eating disorders can manage stress effectively?

A: Take time to slow down and relax. This could be done by simply taking some nice deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, which will allow you to move into a state of calm.

Also, it is important to take time for self-care. Find time to do things you enjoy and provide you contentment.

Q: In the next few months, we’ll no doubt be bombarded with tons of “healthy” eating advice and tips and tricks to prevent weight gain. How can individuals with eating disorders deal with this often unhealthy, restrictive and damaging advice?

A: It’s best to focus in on what is important in your life, i.e., loved ones, friends, personal aspirations, etc. Direct your attention to things that allow you to come from a place of empowerment and enjoyment.

It is best to avoid negative media messages about weight, shape, and appearance and stay away from reading or watching content related to weight loss. Instead, remain attentive to your own personal needs and find ways to get these needs met.

Q: Eating during the holidays can become a particular challenge. What is your advice for individuals with EDs when it comes to anxiety over the holiday spread?

A: Eating regular meals and snacks will assist in preventing restrictive and/or overeating behaviors. Challenge the diet mentality of believing all foods are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, by reminding yourself that all foods are good and part of a normal lifestyle.

It is important to remain true to your hunger and satiety signals and if there is a meal plan in place, be sure to honor it.

Q: Since the holidays are a time to catch up with a variety of family and friends, individuals may be confronted with negative comments (or seemingly positive ones about their appearance: “Oh, you’ve lost weight”) or tons of talk about dieting, weight gain and so on. How can they handle these types of situations?

A: One way to handle negative comments is to witness what is being said rather than absorbing the message. Filter out the negative and hold on to the positive content of conversations.

This can be done by being mindful of what others are saying. Being assertive and setting healthy boundaries is appropriate if someone crosses the line.

“Dos” of the Holidays

Below, Sara offers a list of general guidelines on navigating the holidays:

  • Recognize the holidays can be stressful even though they may run smoothly.
  • Plan ahead. Prepare activities that will allow you to relax when family and guests arrive.
  • Eat the foods you enjoy and decline the foods you would prefer not to have.
  • Take frequent breaks from large gatherings of people and allow for some alone time.
  • Utilize therapy and support groups.
  • Address any anticipations of the holidays with a therapist, dietitian, or other member of your treatment team. They can help you predict, process, and prepare for getting through any uncomfortable family situations.
  • Spend time with people you care about.
  • Visualize how you would like the holidays to unfold. Take time daily to focus in on your vision, to remember, to nurture, and to center yourself into those thoughts, feelings, and actions so that they’re in alignment with your vision for yourself.
  • Avoid over-stressing and over-booking yourself.


* Reference used for “Dos” of the Holidays: NEDA, 2005. “Twelve Ideas to Help People with Eating Disorders Negotiate the Holidays.”

Thanks so much to Sarah for her insight into an important topic!

Other resources

Here’s a list of other resources that might help:

Surviving Thanksgiving Without Losing Your Mind at ED Bites

How to Survive Thanksgiving When You’re in Eating Disorder Recovery at The-F-Word

Relapse Prevention: Eating Disorder Recovery at Weighing the Facts

Ways to Cope at Something Fishy

Recovering from an Eating Disorder? How to Survive the Holidays at The Dish & The Spoon: Food and Family

If you’ve struggled with disordered eating, how do you navigate the holidays? What are your tips to cope and enjoy a fun holiday season?