Self-Care Practices for a Recovery-Focused Holiday Season

Eight strategies for navigating the holiday season while in eating disorder recovery. Suggestions provided by Eating Recovery Center professionals to encourage you to recognize challenges as well as acknowledge the important recovery progress you have made or plan to make starting now.
Pam Cleland, MA, LPC, Alumni Manager Shannon Braasch, MA, Alumni Coordinator Alia Green, MA, NCC, Alumni Coordinator

The holiday season is here! Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, New Year’s—whatever traditions you honor and observe, sustaining, continuing or renewing your commitment to recovery celebrates you at this special time of year.

The holidays can be challenging for many people, especially people in recovery or beginning recovery from an eating disorder. Seasonal events often revolve around food and eating, gatherings may bring together loved ones with strained relationships and our schedules can be overfull with events, obligations and travel. Protecting your recovery, despite increased anxiety around the holiday season, is the ultimate goal.

This month, we’ve compiled eight strategies for navigating the holiday season in eating disorder recovery. These suggestions encourage you to recognize challenges as well as acknowledge the important recovery progress you have made or plan to make starting now.

Pick and choose. Allow yourself to do what you need to do to protect, energize or renew your recovery—whatever that looks like for you. Declining invitations to events that are likely to cause stress and anxiety means that you care deeply about maintaining an eating disorder-free life. Allow yourself to enjoy time with friends and loved ones at gatherings that enthuse and rejuvenate you.

Be open to new traditions. Some holiday customs are cultural, while others are specific to our families and friends. If a tradition no longer aligns with your values-driven recovery, take a risk and alter the tradition or create a new one altogether. Together with your family and friends, explore tradition alternatives and possibilities. You take the lead, as this is your recovery. For example, if your family tradition is to cook calorie-rich seasonal fare, join them in the kitchen and together, make a few healthy recipes to serve alongside the traditional dishes. Be sure to explain to your loved ones the reason behind the proposed change—they may feel disappointed initially; after all, traditions can be very close to our hearts. However, it is likely that they will understand, as your health and ongoing recovery is more important than any meal, party, trip, gift or other pastime.

Tell your loved ones what you need from them. Specific to protecting your recovery during the holiday season, family and friends may not know how to support you. Loved ones are often so happy to have you home and proud of you for the important work you’re doing to beat the eating disorder that they can tend to overlook the fact that the holiday season can be particularly stressful for an individual in eating disorder recovery. By educating friends and family about how they can best support you, you have created a powerful testament to designing and implementing your own recovery.

Breathe. Deep breaths restore important oxygen to our brains, helping us to think more clearly and thus, make effective, recovery-focused decisions. An insensitive comment from a family member, heightened emphasis on food and eating, departure from normal work and school routines—many realities of the holiday season can challenge our confidence. Regrouping and taking needed breaths restore our skill set and recovery mantra energy.

Remember ACT. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) compels us to change our relationship to painful thoughts and feelings, and not to attempt to change the thoughts and feelings themselves. At this time of year especially, these thoughts and feelings can challenge relationship dynamics with family and friends. Review your values, and make decisions about holiday meals, events, relationships and gifts that align with what matters most to you.

Increase appointments with your outpatient team. Schedule additional sessions in advance of challenges and obstacles, or do so as they arise. For example, consider discussing a holiday dinner that you will be attending with your dietitian in advance of the meal and make a game-plan based on the menu. Or, consider scheduling additional time with a family clinician, including family members who may be coming into town for the holiday. If your holiday plans involve travel, keep outpatient appointments stress-free by arranging phone, Skype or other opportunities for therapy rather than cancelling a session altogether.

Be kind to yourself. One slip-up does not define your recovery. Your awareness of the eating disorder behavior or thought provides an opportunity to recognize possible triggers and reflect on what you need to do to protect your recovery. Take a deep breath, remember your skills and move forward.

Reach out for support from mental health professionals. One of the greatest strengths one can have is recognizing the time when they need more support. Reaching out to mental health professionals who can provide guidance, level of care information and keen listening is paramount in helping you move forward on your recovery path. Whatever your recovery needs, Eating Recovery Center and partner programs are here. We pride ourselves in being available. We will listen. Lasting recovery for all is first and foremost our goal.

Wishing you peace, joy and health this holiday season—


Pam, Shannon and Alia

alia green
pam cleland
shannon braasch

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