Spreading Joy in the Holidays After Eating Disorder Treatment

Woman with ornament for the holidays

So many of the traditions that make this time of year special involve the one thing that creates anxiety and turmoil for those in recovery – food.

After all, Thanksgiving’s entire purpose is to commemorate a 3-day feast shared by the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

Food plays a huge role in the traditions we keep and the memories we make, particular around the holidays.

So, how can those fresh out of treatment for binge eating, anorexia or bulimia nervosa, or any other eating disorder work past the stress of the “season’s eating’s” and tap into the joy of the season instead?

It’s true that smells and tastes can bring back vivid memories of holiday’s past. In fact, studies show that more than any other sense, “smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of being ‘brought back in time [1].’”

So often, this causes us to believe that the smell or taste is the memory when it is the feeling this fragrance or taste elicits that matters.

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Comb through your fond holiday memories and separate the food from the feeling. Perhaps the smell of sugar cookies, latkes, or peppermint brings you back to holiday’s past.

Push past the food itself and remember how you felt emotionally:

  • Warm
  • Safe
  • Loved
  • Joyful
  • Free
  • Peaceful.

Holiday Sentiments

These are the holiday sentiments that you want to channel, regardless of your relationship to food.

Tapping into these emotions isn’t easy. Particularly when, moment-to-moment, you may be feeling stress and anxiety as you fight the voice of your ED and resist the urge to return to disordered thoughts and behaviors.

Remember the emotions you found previously and connect them to something unrelated to food. Connect joy with

  • Twinkling lights
  • Love with the hugs of your family
  • Peace with sitting by the fire
  • Laughter with hearing carols.

Attach every fond memory and emotion to an experience rather than food and seek out that experience and emotion when you need to.

Finding and spreading joy is also made easier by generating feelings of gratitude. Instead of constantly thinking of what you don’t have or what isn’t perfect this holiday season, focus on being thankful for what you do have.

Thank your loved ones for the support they have shown you. Thank your treatment team for the work they put toward your recovery. Thank your higher power, whoever that may be.

Woman with ear muffsAbove all else, show gratitude to yourself. Do not berate yourself for what you feel you’re lacking, what you aren’t, or what you think you should be doing better. Thank your mind for working to rewrite how you think and, therefore, how you live.

Thank your body for its incredible ability to heal and to carry you through this beautiful life. Thank your heart for learning how to love yourself once again. Thank yourself for finding the resilience and strength to fight.

This is the first holiday of many positive holidays to come. You are no longer in the shadow of an ED. You are free to love yourself and enjoy your life, and that is worth celebrating!

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] White, A. (2015). Smells ring bells: how smell triggers memories and emotions. Psychology Today, retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-babble/201501/smells-ring-bells-how-smell-triggers-memories-and-emotions.

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 25, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 25, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com