Coping with a Lack of Structure During the Holiday Season

Lady standing in sunrise

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

The eating disordered mind is restless. When is my next binge? What will I eat and how I will I get rid of it? Or endlessly counting calories like a calculator and planning to make up for too many I’ve eaten. Is the gym open Thanksgiving Day? Christmas? What are we having for dinner and how can I avoid it?

We can distract the repetitive thoughts with school, work, simple busyness, but the obsessions thrive in unstructured time, which is common during the holidays.

School is on break. We take vacations from work. The hiatus is intended to spend with family and friends immersed in holiday bliss, but for someone with an eating disorder, the unstructured time manifests broken-record thoughts to manifest.

If you find your eating-disordered thoughts running amok during the holidays, create your own structure. You have power over these thoughts.

Make Plan

Get a planner or make one. Write down what you’re going to do each day. Look at your local events calendar, and see if anything interests you. Build your structure around this.

female-850599_640From there, organize your days. Take walks in the morning. Go to the library. Explore local museums. If you’re comfortable, contact friends and make arrangements for coffee.

If you are in early recovery, it’s also important to structure your meals. Plan your meals ahead, and accordingly, go to the grocery store (with a support person, if you need it). There is nothing wrong with eating something different from others at the dinner table if it helps you follow your meal plan.

Be gentle with yourself. Anxiety commonly co-occurs with eating disorders. One study found two-thirds of individuals with eating disorders had one or more lifetime anxiety order; and the rate of anxiety disorders is virtually even among bulimia, restrictive anorexia, and anorexia with the binge/purge cycle. [1]

Unstructured time is also an opportunity rest, relax, and reflect. This may at first feel uncomfortable, but attempt to set aside some time to meditate, pray, or whatever practice calms your mind.

Busy yourself, if needed. Knit. Crochet. Color, which Carl Jung began as a psychological escape with his patients in the early 20th centuries. Share your feelings with family and/or friends.

You may need extra support after meals, so schedule it. Call a friend. Take a leisurely walk. Remember you are in control. You. Not your eating disorder. And you can structure your time toward health.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What holiday activities have helped you or your loved ones struggling with disordered eating stay focused on recovery?

Leigh BellAbout the Author: Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


[1]: Kaye, W., Bulik, C., Thornton, L., & Masters, K. (2004). Comorbidity of anxiety disorders with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(12), 2215-2221.

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 November 11, 2015
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