Five Tips to Prepare for the Holidays

Purple and silver Christmas balls

Contributor: Michelle Dempsey, M.A., LMFT, Senior Therapist, Adolescent and Pediatric Eating Disorders Centers for Treatment and Research, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research

The holiday season can be a stressful time of year. When you throw in an eating disorder, it can be downright daunting. Intended as a time-of-year for gratitude and family togetherness, the food-centered activities often take center stage.

For those struggling with an eating disorder, holidays mean constant bombardment from high-calories (challenge) foods, social eating pressure, and unpredictable questions and comments from family members. With the proper support and holiday preparedness, however, surviving the holiday season is possible. Here are some strategies to help navigate this rocky time of year:

Prepare your holiday schedule:

Planning ahead is a great way to reduce anxiety you might experience as the holidays approach. Use a planner to map out your holiday activities, such as family visits, parties, travel days, and shopping trips. Then, get specific and include your meals and snacks as part of your holiday schedule. For instance, if you plan to go shopping with a friend, will you go out to eat at a restaurant?

If so, which one? If you are visiting with a relative for part of the day, will you be able to make a lunch at their house? If not, will you need to pack a lunch, or grab something at the store on the way over? The more specific you are, the less likely it is that you will be surprised and have to make spur of the moment decisions. Reducing uncertainty around holiday eating will help reduce discomfort and distress.

Stick to your meal plan:

fruits-82524_1280At family gatherings or parties, it is okay to stick with your “safe” foods; there is no need to be adventurous during high-stress situations. You may also choose to bring a “back-up” meal or snack if the foods provided are too challenging. If you notice yourself deviating from your meal plan, get back on track as soon as possible at the next meal or snack.

Create a support network:

Ask a family member, friend, or significant other ahead of time to be your “go-to” support person at a holiday event. This person can help distract you from triggering conversations or comments from others. Use a code word or phrase to signal if your eating disorder thoughts or urges become too overwhelming and you need to take a break.

Don’t leave home without your coping skills:

Cope ahead for difficult situations by identifying what your “triggers” are and which coping skills can help you in response. Take the time to make a list of your “go-to” skills if you have a hard time thinking of them in the moment (e.g., reframing unhelpful thoughts, deep breathing, mindfulness, distraction, positive self-talk).

Use visualization to imagine yourself in the situation ahead of time and rehearse in your mind using your coping skills effectively.

Set limits:

Five joyful friendsIf friends or relatives cause you stress, it’s okay to set limits on participating in activities and spending time with family. Plan ahead rehearsed responses to difficult questions or triggering comments. Consider contacting friends and family members ahead of time and ask them not to comment on or ask about your eating disorder.

Lastly, and with equal importance, be proud of yourself for making an effort, whatever the outcome. Accept the challenges for what they are as there is still so much to be enjoyed this holiday season.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How have you or your loved one navigated the holidays in recovery from disordered eating? Have you developed new traditions?


Michelle Dempsey ImageMichelle Dempsey, M.A., LMFT is a Senior Therapist
Adolescent and Pediatric Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research at the UCSD Department of Psychiatry.

Michelle is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has been working with the UCSD Adolescent Day Treatment Program since 2010, and the Pediatric Eating Disorders Program since 2014. With over 10 years of clinical eating disorder and co-occurring treatment experience, Michelle has worked with both adolescents and adults at the residential, partial hospitalization, and outpatient levels. Past experience also includes working as a Counseling Coordinator and Facility Manager at a residential facility in Los Angeles County. Michelle obtained her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Antioch University (Los Angeles), and Bachelor of Arts from UC Santa Barbara. In addition to providing individual and family therapy, Michelle facilitates the Parent Management Training and multi-family groups.


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 27, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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