Don’t Let Eating Disorder Recovery Lead to Excess Holiday Stress

Girl struggling with eating disorder recovery over the holidays

Contributor: Staff at Carolina House

Even in a year as unusual as 2020, when our patterns have been disrupted and routines disturbed, you don’t have to look far to see signs that the holidays are coming. Neighbors putting up festive lights, workers hanging tinsel and decorating trees around town, and seasonal favorites blasting on the radio once again leave little doubt that we’re heading toward the holidays. It’s a happy time that leads to celebrations with family and friends, harking back to cherished childhood memories and enchantment.

At least that’s what the Hallmark Channel would have you believe.

In reality, what is a joyous time for many is the impetus for stress, anxiety, and depression for so many others. According to one study, 6% of the U.S. population, largely in northern climates, suffers from seasonal affective disorder [1]. Another 14% struggles with a lesser form of seasonal mood changes known as winter blues.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t just about feeling down. Aside from a decreased energy level, trouble concentrating, and withdrawal from family and friends, people who have seasonal affective disorder tend to eat more — particularly sweets and starches — and can gain weight.

For those in eating disorder recovery, even the mildest of winter blues can threaten their progress. So much of the focus around the holidays is on food, and going all the way from Halloween to the start of the new year can feel like a gauntlet of stress.

Holiday Eating Disorder Recovery Support Tools

It’s important to be prepared as we head into this time of year. To do that, we have a list of strategies to help you navigate the holidays if you’re in eating disorder recovery.

1. Talk to those who support you
Your mentors, recovery coach, dietitian, and therapist can all provide valuable perspectives heading into the holidays. Schedule and keep any meetings with them in December to develop plans for how you’ll handle certain obligations.

Your dietitian, for instance, can help you decide which foods you’ll eat and which “fear foods” you’ll be willing to try. Your therapist can help you determine healthy ways to deal with any potential triggers. Your mentors and recovery coach can provide you with moral support and encouragement as you head into this challenging time.

2. Make a list of coping statements
African American girl in eating disorder recoveryThere may be a time when you get caught off guard or in an uncomfortable spot around the holidays. Just when you think that stress is getting the best of you, having a list of positive self-affirmations can help you return from the brink of despair and regain a positive mindset. Some good examples can include:

  • I don’t have to let fear control my actions.
  • There are no such things as good or bad foods.
  • I am a confident, strong-willed person, and I can do this.
  • I am willing to try things I once feared.
  • It’s OK to be afraid, but being flexible can help me overcome my fears.

3. Set boundaries on sensitive subjects
If you’re getting together with a small group of family members or friends who know about your eating disorder recovery, let them know ahead of time which subjects you would rather avoid. Remember that you are in control. If you need to leave a gathering early because something makes you uncomfortable, that’s your prerogative.

4. Practice self-care
Agonizing over potential pitfalls around the holidays won’t make you feel any better. Do something nice for yourself, whether that’s purchasing a new, cozy outfit, getting a massage or a manicure, or even sprucing up your bathroom with some candles and scented bubbles. Relaxing your mind will help as you step outside your comfort zone during the holidays.

5. Let go of guilt and shame
If you slip up from your diet plan over the holidays, that’s OK, and you shouldn’t consider a temporary setback a long-term loss. Guilt and shame are typically far more damaging than any food you consume over time. Remember that food, particularly around the holidays, can be a link to creating bonds with loved ones.

No matter what challenges lie ahead during this holiday season in eating disorder recovery, remember that you can overcome them. Surround yourself with the support of those you trust — even if, in 2020, you can’t always physically see them — and you’ll be set up to thrive and take a major psychological step forward in your recovery.


[1] Targum, S. D. and Rosenthal, N. (2008). Seasonal affective disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 5(5), 31–33.

About the Sponsor:

Carolina House BannerCarolina House is an eating disorder treatment center that serves people of all genders, ages 17 and older. Within our residential and outpatient programs, we offer a range of services such as LGBTQ- and male-inclusive programming to help individuals who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Our treatment connects men and women with the care they need to achieve long-term recovery from eating disorders and other mental health concerns.

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 a 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.

Published on December 3, 2020. Published on
Reviewed & Approved on December 3, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.