Eating Disorder Recovery and the Holidays: Tips to Support Yourself and Others This Season

While the holidays are associated with fun and festivity, they can also lead to an increase in stress, depression, and anxiety. The holidays are particularly challenging for the 30 million Americans in recovery from an eating disorder. The combination of time with extended family, long stretches of unstructured time, and social gatherings with abundant food and drink can interfere with recovery. Yet with awareness, proper support, and careful planning, it is absolutely possible to survive the holidays if you or someone you love is living with an eating disorder.

For people in recovery from eating disorders, it can be helpful to think through anticipated triggers and develop a prevention plan for responding to stressful occasions. While it’s not always possible to prepare for every challenging situation, having a plan in place and reviewing it throughout the season can help. The holidays are a good time to contact your support network: reach out to trusted peers, therapists, and loved ones for support before and after particularly difficult days or occasions. It’s also important to inform the people around you when they are making you feel uncomfortable. As one person in recovery said, “I ask my family to steer clear of triggers such as ‘you look well’ or ‘well done’ after finishing a meal.” (This primer on what not to say about food during the holidays might be a helpful resource to show them.) Additionally, while holiday occasions can fill up the calendar, be sure to continue to schedule and keep up with the self-care activities that sustain you throughout the year. Finally, try to avoid the expectation that the holidays “should” be happy, and allow yourself the fullness of your emotions during this season.

For those looking to support peers and loved ones in recovery, some tips include: Be mindful of the impact (on a person with an eating disorder or in recovery) of too strong a focus on weight or appearance or food intake. The general guideline is not to try to “fix” your loved one, but to show empathy, ask how you can be of support, and really listen to what they are saying. As clinical psychologist Dr. Stephanie Zerwas shared with Bustle: “Instead of trying to fix your family member by showing them the error of their eating disorder thoughts, let them know that you have empathy for how they are feeling, and ask them what kind of help they would like.” If it’s helpful, you can support your loved one to review or create a prevention plan for surviving the holidays.

For further exploration, see:

Supporting others:

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.