Navigating the Holidays with an...

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Navigating the Holidays with an Eating Disorder

December 09, 2021

For people with eating disorders, the holiday season can be a struggle. Navigating your own recovery and being mindful of your plan is one thing, but navigating through meal-focused get-togethers, the expectations of family and friends around portion sizes, and other triggers, can be enough to make one want to avoid the holidays altogether.

Not knowing how to support someone you love who is dealing with an eating disorder during the holidays isn’t easy either, and having a plan for how to delicately shift the focus of the holidays from food to family is always a good idea.

One of our eating disorder specialists, Courtney Billman, MSW, LCSW, has shared some resources that you can use to stay on track with your eating disorder recovery when out of your typical routine. This Recovery Planner is a free, printable document you can use to keep track of your daily meals, self-care plan, struggles, successes, feelings, and more, as you go through the next few weeks.

<Click here to download the free Recovery Planner>


“The holidays can be a really tough time for people with eating disorders. I would encourage anyone struggling this holiday season to honor their recovery by creating a plan. Set aside some time to sit with your feelings, and allow them to serve a purpose. Instead of letting fear turn into shame, try viewing undesirable emotions as tools that can be used to cope ahead.

Whether this means establishing structure around holiday meal times, confiding in a support person, or identifying situations that feel the most vulnerable, preparing in advance is key to taking the power away from your eating disorder this holiday season.”

– Courtney Billman, MSW, LCSW

Additionally, NEDA has a whole lineup of articles with great ideas for how to navigate the waters of the holiday season with an eating disorder, whether you are the one struggling or you are the parent, friend, or close loved one. This podcast episode from Peace Meal is a great listen as well. Tune in as Kezia Reeder and Dr. Jilliam Lampert discuss Reeder’s eating disorder recovery and her ways of coping during the holidays.

“Do what works for you, and there’s a lot of different ways that holidays can look successful with an eating disorder.”  -Kezia Reeder

Whether you enlist the support of other family members, or engage in a specific meal and treatment plan for the holidays, know that there are ways to successfully navigate this season. Here are some specific strategies you can incorporate into your recovery plan. If possible, we recommend confiding in a support person to help with these.

  • Create an environment during gatherings that makes food just one piece of the experience rather than the main focus.
  • Engage with other memory-making activities during gatherings that don’t involve food. Watch a classic movie, go caroling, or volunteer together.
  • Make it a rule to not comment on portion sizes in any context.
  • With a support person, discuss expectations before the gathering, and then make a plan to stick to them.
  • With a support person, talk through appropriate food choices and portion sizes before the gathering, and be intentional about following through.
  • Make sure your support person is aware of signs that you are struggling and need support. Come up with a signal of some kind that can make it clear when you are in need of support.
  • Plan out and practice coping skills that do not involve food for managing the stress and anxiety that the holidays can bring.
  • Actively engage in mindfulness activities throughout the event to ease your anxiety and connect to your body and its needs.

If you are in need of additional support with a counselor who specializes in eating disorders, we are here for you.

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