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Coping With Eating Disorders During the Holidays

Holiday gatherings with family and friends can trigger anxiety in just about anyone. Although for many, the holidays are a time of indulgence without the unnecessary shame.  For those who are struggling with an eating disorder, however, holiday get-togethers can be terrifying.


This time of year places us all in vulnerable and emotional situations. Being triggered by overwhelming emotions or family dynamics can cause men and women with eating disorders to resort to their disorders to restore a sense of self-control.

Men and women with anorexia often feel tremendous guilt at just the thought of indulgence involving food. Being seen eating can bring on intense shame and create feelings of weakness. Some fear that just one bite will send them into a spiral of weight gain and loss of control.

A person with bulimia or binge eating disorder may become intensely preoccupied with the food at holiday celebrations. For a man or woman with bulimia or binge eating disorder, the indulgence is met by their “secret life”.

Rather than being present and enjoying time with their friends and family, those who suffer from these disorders are trapped in a nightmare of fear, shame, obsession and disordered behaviors.

How Can I Help My Loved One?

  • Do not fuss over what your loved one is eating.
  • Try not to put the focus on food.
  • Ask how he/she is.
  • Offer support before, during and after the holiday.
  • Spend quality time with your loved one.
  • Make agreements about how you can best help your loved one with food.
  • Educate yourself about the illness and the triggers.
  • If you see her struggling, ask if she wants to talk, but ask this in private.
  • Focus on how she is feeling inside, what issues she is worrying about, what her fears are, what she needs, rather than just how much she is eating or not eating.
  • Try not to focus too much attention on the eating disordered behaviors.
  • Let him/her know that he/she is loved.
  • Encourage your family member or friend to gather extra support around themselves during the holidays.
  • Arrange activities or outings that do not center around food.

How Do I Help Myself?

If you are currently in treatment for an eating disorder, try to keep a regular pattern of eating. Skipping meals or starving in preparation for holiday events will likely backfire. Discuss your anticipation with members of your treatment team so they can help you prepare for the upcoming holiday gatherings. It is a good idea to have a person you can call and speak to if you begin struggling with addictive thoughts and behaviors. Try to keep stress to a minimum by cutting down on unnecessary events. This will leave time for you to relax, meditate, and take care of yourself and enjoy the holidays with your loved ones.