How to Navigate Food Abundant Holidays While in Eating Disorder Recovery

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How to Navigate Food Abundant Holidays While in Eating Disorder Recovery

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD

For those who struggle with food, the holiday season can feel overwhelming…to put it mildly. You can easily live in a constant state of stress and anxiety, which is so understandable given all you are battling and trying to overcome.  

The holidays do present unique challenges that are less frequent at other times of the year: there is an abundance of food, food is part of many celebrations, you are around more family and friends that could easily make triggering comments about food or weight, and perhaps there is less structure from day to day during holidays breaks that make it harder to stick with your meal plan.  

I’d like to offer some advice to those of you struggling with an eating disorder during the holiday season. These tips are meant to make the holidays less stressful for you and provide you with opportunities to strengthen your commitment to yourself and your recovery.

1. Trust your meal plan.

It could be hard to trust yourself, your hunger and fullness signals, other people or your beliefs about food…but trusting your meal plan will bring you a lot of peace and less emotional distress especially during the holiday season. Take some time each night to think through the next day and mentally prepare for each meal and snack. Commit to sticking with your plan, which will free up mental energy and save decision-making capacity for other things. You do not need to compensate during the holidays (or any time of the year) by skipping meals and snacks. You do not have to earn your food!

2. Identify a support system and allow them to help you with eating.  

Is there someone that will be with you at holiday gatherings that can support you? They could help you get out of a triggering conversation or could eat what you are eating to help you not feel alone in following your meal plan. They can also engage you in a conversation as a distraction from any anxiety you may be feeling.  

3. No food is off limits.  

While I’ve encouraged you to stick with the structure your meal plan provides, it should be flexible enough to allow for ANY food. There are no rules for what you can and can’t have. Also, you have full permission to eat and feel satisfied all year round, not just during the holidays.


4. Work with your therapist and dietitian to make a plan for each holiday event.  

I use a lot of visualization techniques with my clients so they are mentally prepared and have thought through possible scenarios. I also have them create a list of foods they would want to enjoy, and even write a permission slip to themselves for enjoying those foods. If triggering comments come up, they can refer back to our plan and stay true to themselves.  

5. If there are particular family members and friends that you know could create uncomfortable situations, don’t hesitate to avoid them.  

You need to look out for yourself, so position yourself at a different table or area if needed. This could be especially important if they make judgmental comments about food or talk about their diet and food rules. Along with this, keep your social media feeds free from food or body obsessive accounts. Alternately, follow those who make you feel positive about food and your body.  

6. Make memories and find meaning in what you are celebrating.  

That can help put the holiday, and the food, in perspective. Why is celebrating the holiday important to you? You can enjoy the sociality and satisfaction that comes from holiday meals while recognizing that it’s just one part of the celebration. Doing that will likely make the food feel less overwhelming.  

Lastly, if you find yourself relapsing or using eating disorder behaviors, reach out for help. Dismiss any guilt that may come as a result and recommit to yourself, your recovery and a healthier direction moving forward. Even if that cycle repeats itself numerous times during the holiday season, all that matters is that you recommit to the process of recovery. That right there is what recovery is all about.  

Spacer - green.jpg Emily Fonnesbeck, RD Contributor

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD is a Registered Dietitian who owns her own private practice in southern Utah. Her nutrition passion consists of helping individuals free themselves from diets, disordered eating, food anxiety, poor body image and obsessive exercise. She has a non-diet, weight-neutral, client-centered approach to help people make peace with food and live confident, healthy and satisfying lives.
Visit her website.