Show Related Links +

Celebrating Holidays While in IOP

Contributed By: Neathery Thurmond, LMSW, Staff Therapist, Hill Country Recovery Center (Austin, TX)

Thanksgiving Harvest DollHolidays are a wonderful time for connection, reflection, and a much needed “pause” from the day to day routine. Holidays can be a time for mixed emotions and for many individuals, whether or not they are struggling with an eating disorder, the holidays can bring up intense emotions and painful thoughts.

Those struggling with an eating disorder face further obstacles and challenges with festivities being based around food events. Being in treatment during the holidays can help provide structure, accountability, and support to stay the course of recovery.

Treatment is also a vulnerable time as most individuals are processing through difficult emotions and past experiences trying to get a grasp for making difficult changes. The key to thriving through the holidays is all in the planning ahead.

Prior to any stressful event, holidays included, take some time to practice the 3 C’s. Cope before, cope during, and cope after. Here are some ideas to help you or a loved one cope ahead of the holidays. An individual’s treatment team can help provide guidance in practicing these strategies and coming up with a plan that helps move someone towards their life worth living.

Coping Before:

Identify a Value: Think about what is important to you going into the holidays and connect with what matters to you. Holding that value gently can help you continue doing what’s difficult and scary if it means you are living align with your values.

Some possible ideas:

  • Connection
  • Peacefulness
  • Well-being
  • Family
  • Leisure
  • Adventure

You might even want to find a picture, object, or create a piece of artwork that you can have with you during events to help remind you of your values.

Breathe: Continue to take deep, slow breaths and bring yourself to the present moment. Try to limit the “what if’s?” and catastrophizing the future when all we have is the now. Set alarms to remind you to be mindful and practice breathing deeply and slowing down.

Table with foodMeal Planning: Work with your treatment team and dietitian and come up with as structured and specific of a meal plan as you need and tailored to your comfort level. If you are traveling, troubleshoot with your dietitian timing of meals/snacks and what snacks you can have on hand with you.

Accountability Buddy: Reach out to your supports and plan with them some ways they can be there for you. Some ways others can support: sitting next to them at a meal, spending quality time together before/after meals, being available for “check ins” via phone or text, and going and doing other activities to help provide structure in the day.

Create Affirmations: Come up with turnarounds to the eating disorder voice and write them in your journal, keep them on your phone, or somewhere else easily accessible. If you are feeling stuck, this is a great activity to do with your treatment team.

Self-Soothe Bag: Think of this as almost an emergency toolkit. Create a bag that you can easily keep on you so if you are feeling dysregulated you can access these items quickly. Some ideas of what you can put in your bag: object that reminds you of your values, stress ball, journal with affirmations, bubbles, lotion, crossword or other puzzles, mandalas or coloring pages and a set of colors, silly putty, and the list goes on!

Schedule: Come up with a general schedule for yourself, including when you’ll be eating meals/snacks, and incorporate activities not focused on food. Be sure to provide yourself with plenty of down time instead of overbooking yourself.

Coping During:

Breathe: Keep breathing! Keep setting alarms to help remind you to take a mindfulness break. Try out an app like Calm or Insight Timer for guided mindfulness practices.

Follow meal plan: Put into practice the plan you created with your treatment team and eat all meals when you need to. Setting alarms to help remind you to eat consistently and regularly throughout the day can help. Reach out to your treatment team or Accountability Buddy!

Assertiveness and Limits: You have every right to honor your needs and wants especially if it can help you get through a difficult moment. An effective way of asking for what you need is through this formula: “When you ___________, I feel ____________, and I would like __________”. You have every right to take breaks from family/friend time and even spend time alone.

Extended family in living room smilingUse Your Self-Soothe Bag: Take a break from whatever situation is causing stress and spend some time with the bag you created just for THIS moment!

Gratitude: Remind yourself that this stressful moment is JUST a moment. Remind yourself of what is going right in your life and spend a moment coming up with a gratitude list.

Express Emotion: Try not to bottle up what you are feeling. Spend some time journaling, talk with a trusted support, call your treatment team, cry it out, watch a funny video, or punch your pillow. Whatever emotion you are feeling, express it effectively.

Coping After:

Compassion: If you did get off track, gently acknowledge it and provide yourself some grace, compassion, and forgiveness. Nobody is perfect and the best thing you can do is get right back on track, nonjudgmentally. Validate yourself for showing up for recovery and how you are doing the very best you can.

Self-Care: Treat yourself! Do something just for you, that you enjoy and find rejuvenating. You are WORTH it and DESERVE it!

Reflect: Once you are back with your treatment team, explore what helped and what didn’t. Learn from experience so you know how to best care for yourself the next time a stressful event comes up.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with IOP during the holidays? What advice do you have to share?


About the author: Neathery Thurmond is a therapist and eating disorder advocate living in Austin, TX. She is passionate about the education, prevention, and treatment of eating disorders and joining others in their recovery journey. She believes that recovery is achievable for everyone. For motivational reminders, follow her Facebook account! (www.facebook.com/neatherythurmond)


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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 10, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

Search Eating Disorder Hope