Spending the Holidays in Treatment and Keeping Your Traditions

Woman with Binge eating disorder during the Holidays

The holidays are a complicated time for those in eating disorder treatment.  While the festivities may be exciting, it’s hard to imagine celebrating as one usually does without the home, traditions, and family they normally have around them.

While your holiday celebrations will undoubtedly be different in treatment, you can still have a joyous time!

Focus on Togetherness During the Holidays

First, let’s talk about food, or, more accurately, why we shouldn’t talk about food.

The holiday season can cause an increase in eating disordered thoughts and behaviors because of the “anxiety that can accompany gatherings of friends and family, as well as more emphasis on, and exposure to, food [1].”

To have a more positive holiday experience, steer your focus away from food and toward the concept of togetherness.


As corny as it may sound, the warm feelings we get around the holidays aren’t about the food, they’re about the beautiful feeling of being surrounded by the support, love, and laughter of the people about whom we care.

Let your holiday revolve around seeing, and spending time, with positive people who nourish your soul, foster your recovery, and bring you joy, whether that be your family, friends, or those in treatment with you.

Be Where You Are in Recovery

As previously mentioned, your holiday experience is all about being with your loved ones, but, you will still need to eat. There will come a holiday when you can indulge in all of the festive treats your heart desires.

If it isn’t this holiday, that’s okay. Don’t stress over what you can, or cannot, bring yourself to eat. Tackle this day like you would any other in treatment, listening to your body and your mind and eating what nourishes you.

Re-Vamp Old Traditions

The whole point of a tradition is that it’s the same each time you do it. This can make participating in holiday traditions in treatment hard because they are unlikely to elicit the same feelings as when you did them at home, surrounded by your decorations and loved ones.

But, you don’t have to give up on those old traditions simply because they won’t be the same. Breathe new life into them in a way that makes you happy where you are.

Perhaps one of your favorite holiday traditions is decorating the Christmas tree with your family. Ask your family if they wouldn’t mind helping you to decorate one in your treatment center, whether it be a real tree, a fake tree, or a life-sized drawn tree!

You could also ask your family to bring some of your favorite holiday decorations for your room! Surround yourself with your “holiday creature comforts” that make you feel more at home.

Explore New Traditions

This holiday season can also be an opportunity for you to create your own traditions that promote recovery! Your treatment center may have some of their own for you to participate.

baking during the Holidays You can also ask those in treatment what their favorite holiday traditions are and help to make them happen. This can not only open you up to new traditions but will help your peers feel more at home during the holiday, too!

An essential part of recovering from an eating disorder is accepting that there are things we cannot control but that we can find what we can manage and make the best of it. You can’t control that you’re in treatment this holiday season, but you can control how you choose to spend the holiday.

Think of this as another exciting way that you are paving your own path through recovery, re-vamping old holiday traditions and creating new ones that don’t cause you anxiety, foster your recovery, and bring you nothing but joy!

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] Staff News Writer (2012). As holidays bring heightened risk for eating disorders relapse, eating recovery center promotes strategies for protecting recovery. Mental Health Business Week.

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 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 21, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 21, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com