Five Tips for Navigating Holiday Parties in Eating Disorder Treatment

Woman holding holiday lights

Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

For so many people, mistletoe and eggnog, white elephant gift exchanges, seasonal songs, and a dessert list that runs a mile long are reasons to celebrate – staples at holiday parties shrouded in traditions that serve as annual memory makers. But for some, eating disorder recovery and holiday festivities can be more chore than cheer.

A lot of the focus around the holidays is on what we have, but for many, that equates to plenty of reminders about what they’re missing. Whether that’s a loved one who’s no longer around, a relationship that went south, or a promising job that became stale, seeing others reveling in the joy of the season can result in increased anxiety and depression [1].

Heading into the holidays with an eating disorder presents its own unique set of challenges. Holiday parties are often about reuniting with loved ones or celebrating successes at work, but regardless of circumstance, there tends to be one common denominator: food, and lots of it.

Eating Disorder Recovery and Holiday Party Tips

So, how to handle those obligations that risk turning into serious obstacles in the midst of eating disorder treatment? Here are five tips for staying on track in your recovery during the holiday party season.

1. Plan ahead

If your holiday schedule involves travel, this is particularly critical. Pack some snack foods for your trip and to have when you reach your destination. You may not have access to your usual foods where you’re going, so make sure you’re stocked up until you can shop for what you need.

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If you’re headed to a party, prepare responses to people who might say something that could make you feel uncomfortable. If possible, have a friend or coworker who knows your situation by your side to help deflect when necessary. If you need to excuse yourself from an engagement because a particular person puts you on edge, that’s OK, too. Remember: Your health comes first.

2. Set healthy boundaries

If you’re headed to a more intimate gathering where you know most of the attendees, transparency may be the best option. Tell people ahead of time that you don’t want to discuss your appearance or your eating with anyone. By leaving the eating disorder off-limits, you might find it easier to enjoy yourself and your company.

Maybe a particular relative loves to talk about all the new diet trends they’ve been trying. Don’t let that get to you. Mention how you’re really excited to be able to spend time with family from near and far, but you’d like the dining room table to be a diet-free discussion place.

3. Practice self-care

Following a typical routine during eating disorder recovery and holiday celebrations is important – even if it might not always be realistic. Getting the right amount of sleep and sticking to your meal plan is vital toward your mental and physical well-being. And don’t be afraid to say no when offered anything tempting that doesn’t fit your treatment plan.

But in what tends to be an especially stress-filled time, self-care can extend beyond the day-to-day basics. Read a good book, schedule a massage, or take a soothing bubble bath.

If you’re visiting relatives from out of town, take some time to see an old friend. If you’re near your childhood home, check out an attraction that brings positive memories from your younger days. You’ll find fulfillment from these distractions, and they’ll put your mind at ease.

4. Rely on your support system

Friends giving each other support in Eating Disorder Recovery and Holiday FestivitiesThose who know what you’re going through will be your pillars of strength during the holidays, especially at parties where the sheer amount of faces and food can become overwhelming.

Have these trusted allies set you up for success, whether that means preparing food that fits into your meal plan or shielding you from a relative who’s itching to tell you all about how they ate their way through the Amalfi Coast.

Your support system is more than just a friend, parent, or sibling, though. Talk to your treatment team ahead of time.

Get the contact info for someone who can help if the moment becomes too big. Your treatment team wants nothing more than to see you overcome an eating disorder.

5. Celebrate what matters most

By following the first four tips on this list, you’ll set yourself up for the last one. There’s a deeper meaning to the holidays than food and, despite the temptations that may surround you, steering through these seasonal soirees is achievable – and, hopefully, enjoyable.

It’s easy for those who are struggling with eating disorders to be hard on themselves. But holiday gatherings can be a good time to reflect on your journey, and the fact that you’re getting the help you need and deserve is a big part of that.

Feel proud of yourself. Lean on your support system. The professionals who are helping you on the road to recovery and your loved ones are both on the same page.

There’s a lot to celebrate this holiday season. Most of all, you.


[1] National Alliance on Mental Illness (2014). Mental Health and the Holiday Blues. Retrieved from

About Our Sponsor:

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center provides quality, holistic care to women and adolescent girls ages 12 and older. We treat individuals struggling to overcome eating disorders, substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, trauma and post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), and co-occurring disorders. Our campus is located on 43 wooded acres just outside Chicago. This peaceful setting offers an ideal environment for women and girls to focus on recovery.

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.

Reviewed & Approved on December 2, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published December 2, 2019, on

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.