Holiday Meal Time for Eating Disorder Sufferers in Recovery

Holiday Meal table

Contributed by Canopy Cove

The holidays are often pictured as a time of joy, peace, and merriment with happy families sharing idyllic gifts and gathering around a large table with an abundance of traditional holiday foods. However, the reality of the holidays looks far different from what is often pictured in advertisements, TV shows, or movies. This is especially true for someone suffering from an eating disorder during Holiday meal time.

Coping With Challenges During Holiday Meal Time

The reality is we are often overly stressed trying to cram in every last family gathering, school event, extracurricular recital, and/or office party into our already busy holiday schedules. On top of that, we can also be coping with:

  • A loss such as death, separation, divorce, illness, a job, or a recent move
  • Difficult feelings of nostalgia and sadness
  • Wishing things were different or like they used to be
  • Feeling overwhelmed by large crowds or gatherings
  • Feeling pressure to make purchases we cannot afford
  • Returning to childhood homes, which for many means falling back into old family patterns, and/or regressing to your younger emotional self which can lead to feelings of being powerless and out of control
  • Coming together with family who may have different values or religious or political views than you
  • And on…

And then, on top of that, there are the more unique stressors that affect those who are in recovery for disordered eating:

  • Unmindful or mindless eating
  • Grocery shopping, food preparation
  • Returning to a home that is triggering (for example, where eating disorder behaviors occurred, where scales still reside, and so on)
  • Feeling pressure to eat certain foods or amounts of foods
  • Feeling pressure to look or feel a particular way or to be a certain shape/weight
  • Coping with others’ concern/worry
  • Coping with others’ comments (either “positive” or “negative”) about their appearance weight, shape, size, eating habits or food portions
  • Coping with others’ comments about themselves (i.e., “I skipped my last meal so I could eat more.” “I wore my ‘fat’ pants today.” “I will just have to go to the gym after this.”)
  • Fear that their disordered eating will be “outed”
  • And on…

These are all valid stressors. And it is because of these stressors that many in recovery find themselves relapsing or returning to old disordered eating thoughts, urges, or behaviors that they are working to overcome and change.

It’s important to know that there are strategies to help manage the holidays, in particular, holiday meal times.

Six Strategies to Manage Holiday Meal Times:

  1. Reduce vulnerabilities. Our emotions can be significantly influenced by how well we take care of ourselves, including our sleep and eating. It is crucial that we are getting adequate sleep – it can give us more energy and help us stay grounded. It is also important to eat regularly throughout the holidays and follow your meal plan if you have one. Additionally, know that holiday meals can fit your meal plan. It’s okay to get some additional support or feedback from a therapist or dietitian around this. Lastly, if taking medications, be sure that you are using them as prescribed to reduce any further physical and emotional vulnerabilities.
  2. Prepare. Use problem-solving skills to think about any possible triggers or distressing situations beforehand and have tools in place to navigate them as smoothly as possible. If having difficulty with this, you can always talk with a counselor or other trusted support person to help identify specific struggles and come up with a plan on how to handle such struggles if and when they occur. These plans should be individualized, but examples include: Creating an “exit” strategy to change a triggering conversation or leave a triggering environment. Plan balanced meals throughout the day, and acknowledge when eating disorder urges may intensify for example, after a large holiday meal. Prepare and have some coping skills ready to ride out those urges without acting on them. Take a short walk with a friend if you need a break from a large gathering. Be strong enough only to attend what you can handle, and attend support meetings or call a support person.
  3. Decorations for the holidaysBe mindful. Don’t get caught up in the nostalgia of the holidays. This will only add to your suffering. Instead, stick with the present moment. If you find yourself thinking of what used to be or what should be, notice those thoughts and bring yourself back to the present moment. Use mindfulness exercises to help with this. An example may be setting an intention, repeating an affirmation, or saying a prayer before a holiday meal.
  4. Ignore. Practice being non-judgmental with yourself and with others. You cannot prevent others from judging you; however, you can “ignore” their judgments. Practice having a “Teflon” mind – no judgments can stick to you if you ignore them or let them be (that is, not ruminating on them). Equally as important, you can practice being non-judgmental of you, even when it is difficult and challenging.
  5. Take care of yourself. After each holiday event, take the time to care for and soothe yourself. Self-soothing looks different for everyone so, identify what you find calming and relaxing. It could be a lavender bubble bath, lighting a candle and reading a good book, spending time with like-minded people, or listening to your favorite music.
  6. Remember, “This too shall pass.” The holidays are a season, and like all seasons, they pass. While the holidays can be demanding emotionally and physically, you can survive them and make it to the new year!


  1. Fielder-Jenks, Chelsea. (Nov 15, 2017) Thrive Blog: Six skills to survive the holidays. Retrieved from on Dec 5, 2018.
  2. Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT® skills training manual (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

About Our Sponsor:

Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center is a leading residential Eating Disorder Treatment Center with 25 years of experience treating adults and teens who are seeking lasting recovery from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and other related eating disorders.

About the Author:

Chelsea Fielder-JenksChelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.

She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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 10, 2018.
Reviewed & Approved on April 12, 2024, by Baxter Ekern, MBA

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