Holiday Relapse Prevention: What to Do if You Start to Slip

Holiday season in the snow

Relapse prevention is essential during the holidays when in recovery from an eating disorder. There are various signs to look for when you believe that you might be starting to slip.

Share With Others

When going to holiday family gatherings, or meeting up with friends, it is essential to share your triggers and needs with them prior to the day. It can help for those who support you to know what to look for and how to help you if you need it.

Making a list of potential triggers, what is typically a challenge for you, and a list of your coping skills or recovery support plan can help loved ones know how best to help you if they notice that you are struggling.

Rely on your support system to help you step away from the table or buffet to be able to take a moment to go over your meal plan, help you stay mindful in the moment, or just to distract [1].

State what your warning signs are for your eating disorder with your support system. This can help them know what to look for and what to do.

Treatment Team in Action

Utilize your treatment team to create a holiday meal plan to help you navigate the holidays. Work on foods you would like to try, challenge foods if you feel ready, and more comfortable foods if you are feeling unsure about your ability to not engage in behaviors.

Having a plan to work from can help reduce anxiety about meals and gatherings.

Before the holidays, set up a check-in session with your therapist or treatment team to be able to talk with a safe and objective person.

If you are out-of-town for the holidays you can set up a phone session as well. It is also imperative that you schedule a follow-up visit immediately after the holidays to be able to check-in as well [2].

Resisting the Urge

Bulimia can be difficult during the time of year when there is typically an excess of food and a variety of foods that are not typically eaten in day-to-day life.

Woman during the holidaysHunger can be a powerful trigger and make sure that you are eating consistently throughout the day and following your meal plan can help you avoid a binge-purge episode.

If you feel that you vulnerable to an episode try to avoid the foods that you feel might be triggering.

If it gets to be too much step away from the party and meet up with a support person to be able to process the situations.

If you do feel the urge to binge or purge, overeat, or restrict, try to resist it for a period of time. You can distract yourself by journaling, listening to music, getting involved in an activity with a family or friend and try to see if the sensation passes.


Practice self-care daily. Meet up with friends, go to a movie, take a yoga class. Engaging in things that promote your health and well-being is essential in relapse prevention.

It can help you gain confidence in your ability to have compassion and self-confidence in your inner strength. Self-care activities also promote hope which can motivate and drive a person to recover.


Work on identifying your feelings and thoughts around triggering events and situations. Being able to journal about what was triggering and why can help you determine underlying issues or topics.

It can help you find a new healthy way of managing these emotions and thoughts. Checking in with a local peer support group over the holidays can also help you find new ways to manage your feelings as well.

Facts Can Change Perceptions

If you feel yourself slipping back into eating disorder behaviors, remember that the longer you have had an eating disorder, and the severity of the disorder can increase the relapse rates [3].

Woman in holidays

Treat yourself with kindness and remember that there will be days you have an increased thought pattern around your body, weight, shape, and size. It is typical and common after treatment.

Relapsing may feel like movement backward, but it is not. Relapsing teaches a person what trigger was responsible, why did that trigger feel so strong and create a strong reaction. It can help you identify what coping skills worked and what did not and how to adjust those.

Focus on being able to find your way back to recovery if you are starting to relapse. Seek help and support from your treatment team or support network and do not be afraid to share your concerns with them. Relapses are a normal part of the recovery process.

Be honest with yourself that your symptoms may be returning. Stress and everyday life responsibilities can add up, leaving a person feeling drained. It can be common for eating disorder symptoms to return when your energy levels are low.

Work on getting proper nutrition and fluids by following your meal plan. Try not to restrict or fast, binge or purge, or overeat. This can lead to increasing symptom urges [4].

Remember that the holidays can be a fun and joyous time for many. Relapsing is a normal part of the treatment and recovery process. It is how we learn what triggers us, what helps us, and how to prepare for similar situations.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Relapse Warning Signs. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from
[2] Relapse Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from
[3] Relapse and recurrence. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from
[4] Epstein, R. H. (2009, July 13). How to Help Patients Avoid Relapses. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from

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.

Published on December 6, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 6, 2017.
Published on