When Negative Food Talk Takes Over the Office Holiday Party

Office Christmas party place setting

Holidays are a beautiful time. Filled with loved ones, family, friends, and meals. When Christmas parties occur at your work, it can be a struggle for those with an eating disorder.

Food, especially food that may feel safe to a person with an eating disorder, can be more of a battle during holiday parties. Holidays can also trigger adverse memories of trauma or abuse as well.

There are many things that a person can do to curb negative talk around food, or memories as the holidays approach.

Preparation is Key

The first step is the be able to plan behaviorally with your treatment team [1]. Work on keeping with your meal plan. Structure your meals and snacks according to your meal plan even with holidays. You can discuss a meal plan with your treatment team and options for your office Christmas party.

Secondly, plan ahead if you are able. If your work typically has an office party each year, you can anticipate for extra food in the office, baked goods, or holiday parties outside of the office.

Knowing that parties may occur can help you prepare for how to structure your meals to include your holiday party.

Be realistic about where you are in recovery. Holiday parties may and can be triggering if you are working your recovery journey. Negative food talks can occur for anyone, and knowing how to curb those is important to stay on track with your eating disorder treatment.

Mental Strength

Recovery requires mental strength. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or CBT, can help with increasing mental strength and self-talk. Working with a trained professional, or therapist, can help you learn and practice new skills.

Woman enjoying the snowIdentifying your mental triggers around food is essential. What foods start the negative self-talk typically?

Learning cognitive distortions such as jumping to conclusions, black-and-white thinking, and catastrophizing can help you better understand and identify what thoughts are eating disorder related, and which are more realistic thoughts.

Using skills learned in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT can help with distress tolerance. Learning new coping skills and mental strategies can decrease psychological negative thinking around office Christmas parties.

Have a plan to leave if you need to. Too often the pressure of co-workers food talk, or to try someone’s homemade dessert can be overwhelming. Recognize it is alright to take a break to be able to stay focused and on track with your recovery.

Tools That Can Help

If you know ahead of time where your office Christmas party is going to be held, seek out prior to the party, a safe place to be able to sidestep too or leave altogether. Remember it is okay to say no to people and food pushers at office parties.

Many individuals, well-meaning, often push food. Knowing that it is okay to say no and take care of yourself in these situations can help you get through the holiday season.

It is also important to remember that holidays can also be about trying new things. There may be someone’s dessert or dish that you have heard them talk about and want to try. Do it!

Talk with your dietitian about how to incorporate that into your plan, or use it as your exposure activity during the week.

Research shows that social withdrawal and isolation related to social situations in those that suffer from an eating disorder often occurs because of a past fear of negatively being evaluated by peers [1].

This can be a typical response during the holidays, and long-term isolation can also increase negative thinking and behaviors. Be choosy about the office parties you attend, if you can.

Personal Choice

It’s a personal choice to attend an office Christmas party. It is a choice to talk to your co-workers or try new foods. Knowing that you are able to have free-will in situations can also help with negative food thinking.

Friendships and holidays

Remembering that there will be co-workers you enjoy spending time with, and some you don’t. Both are okay and if you feel comfortable, talk with a coworker who supports you in being your teammate during the office party.

This person can help you not to engage in eating disorder behaviors or begin to isolate socially.

You have the ability to change the topic of conversation as well. If the people you are talking with begin to talk about food, diets, exercise, or other related areas, know that you have options. You can change the topic or walk away from the conversation.

Knowing your triggers and how to manage them socially can help you stay in your recovery.

Food is not an enemy; it is fuel and energy for you to live your life. It is used in our American society for social celebration and gathering but work on shifting the way you view food. What foods are there that you feel are nourishing and taste good?

Often with eating disorders, individuals ignore the taste and satisfaction of food. Savor the foods you do enjoy.

Focus on those you want to spend time with at the office party. Talk about memories from past holidays if you share those or things you are looking forward too. Getting involved in a conversation that is outside of food during the party can help disrupt the negative thinking.

Remember that holiday parties do not have to trigger a relapse or set-back. It can be a way to plan for events that may hold triggers but are manageable.

Working with trusted coworkers, your treatment team, and gaining coping skills can help you overcome negative thinking at your Christmas office party.

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] Amour, A., & Anastasia Amour. (2015, December 14). 7 Ways to Survive the Holidays With an Eating Disorder. Retrieved August 26, 2017, from https://www.recoverywarriors.com/7-ways-survive-holidays-eating-disorder/

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 8, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 8, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com