Applying Mindfulness at Holiday Meal Times

Holiday mindfulness

Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

As the holidays approach, those who struggle with eating disorders face a particularly tough battle. The season brings with it much socializing around food and meal times, with work parties, family get-togethers, and other celebrations largely revolving around the very thing that eating disorder sufferers fear the most.

Not only are there an abundance of fear foods present at many holiday gatherings, but also the judgmental comments and looks from others, the casual talk about bingeing and dangerous compensatory behaviors, and for those in recovery, the constant questions about one’s health followed by eyeballs consulting every food decision one makes.

It can be a frustrating, exhausting, and debilitating time.

On top of all of this are the sometimes fractured family relationships or past traumas that can rear their ugly heads, making holiday time far from joyous and with the very real potential to push someone into relapse. It is essential for family and friends of those in recovery from an eating disorder to understand the mine field that the holidays pose and be aware of how to support their loved one with patience and compassion.

Strategies for Applying Mindfulness

There are many helpful tools and strategies for those struggling to keep holiday battles at bay, one of which is practicing mindfulness. Let’s look at how this technique can help transform holiday meal times into opportunities to practice recovery.

1. Learn and practice mindfulness before the holidays begin.

Holiday meal planningNo one can expect to be good at something if they don’t practice. Mindfulness is not easy, and cannot be effectively employed during the toughest of times if it is not practiced in advance. So, start right now! Practice being mindful at meal times now, incorporate the method into scary situations around relationships and food, practicing breathing and focus. Allow yourself space and time to fail at it, to try again, and to learn your weak areas or distractions.

Learning how to monitor your thoughts during anxious times before the holidays even arrive gives you good armor with which to go in to the season’s meal times with confidence. Of course, employing the help of your dietician, therapist or other treatment team member in practicing mindfulness can be incredibly helpful and you should not feel ashamed to reach out to them for support.

2. Expect Distraction

Holiday meal times can be loud, full of sensation, conversations, music, and other cacophony. It can be incredibly difficult to be present and aware. Expect this challenge – and the opportunity it presents! Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a state of zen or emptiness, it truly is a place of presence and awareness, without judgment, that can be employed even while distractions are coming at you from every angle. Therefore, be present in the moment and choose where to place your attention.

Whether it is on your plate, or on the person in front of you, be actively engaged and choose your focus depending on what you need in your soul. This also means being present in the transitions. Practice compassion for yourself and others, and don’t be afraid to step away from a conversation or a situation in order to regain your present attention. No one will be the wiser, and you’ll be able to regain your focus in order to keep a healthy mindset throughout.

3. Be a mindful example to others.

Everyone is struggling with something, and the holidays usually bring those internal battles to the surface. However, when you practice mindfulness in the midst of holiday meal times, you’re not only doing what you need to do for your own recovery, but are setting an example for others. Those that are mindful act differently and project a peace that others can see and feel. Often, it is contagious.

Holiday tableMindfulness also is an act of non-judgment of yourself and others that can be incredibly freeing during a season full of so much expectation and anxiety. It can be a joyous surprise when instead of engaging in useless small talk and feigned emotion, you become slow to speak, quick to listen, and inwardly peaceful – and others notice! Additionally, a mindful presence at meal times can shut down insensitive or hurtful comments from others by the way you respond. Presence and non judgment allows for conflict to be engaged in in healthy way, with an acceptance that it happens and doesn’t define an individual or their recovery journey.

Use mindfulness to pray, monitor internal dialogue, and find an internal place of peace and slowness during the chaos of the holiday season. With the support of a treatment team and friends and family, mindfulness can be an incredible skill to employ to make the holidays not only bearable, but joyful. Start practicing now, expect distractions, and be a mindful example to others so that the holidays become an opportunity to grow your recovery in a way that keeps you healthy and grounded for years to come.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

What are ways that you can apply mindfulness in your recovery during the holiday season?


Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders. She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 11, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com