Managing Eating Disorders During The Holidays

By McCarton Ackerman 12/24/15

Here are a few coping tips from a woman who knows the struggle.


Most people look forward to the holidays in part because they get to splurge on their favorite forbidden foods, but the kitchen table can prove to be especially triggering around holiday time for those suffering with or in recovery from an eating disorder.

It’s common for those who have or have had an eating disorder to feel anxious during this time because the feelings surrounding food, both good or bad, are likely to be more profoundly triggered at home. This can make it difficult to engage in healthy eating habits, sparking plans to avoid food altogether during the holiday or to eat as little as possible for days in advance so that a binge eating session inevitably occurs.

"Holidays are very much about emotions and about food, and those are two of the things that are most dysregulated in eating disorders," explained Cynthia Bulik, director of research at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill's Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

However, having a game plan in place can help make things much easier. Meggie Sexton, who struggled with bulimia and anorexia for seven years, said she scopes out and avoids the rooms at parties which could be problematic. She also makes it a point to verbalize to her family what she needs from them to help get through the holiday period and also enlists a “safe” friend who can support her during these potentially trying gatherings.

But Sexton said the most important thing she can do is be kind to herself.  She engages in activities with family members that aren’t centered around food and makes it a point to not overbook herself during the holiday period so that there’s time to “allow for relaxation and renewal.” Having won her battle with eating disorders for five years, in addition to getting married and raising a now 18-month-old son, it’s clear that her approach is working for her.

“[The disorder] is always going to have a little hold on me,” she said. “But I know I'm stronger than the disorder now and know I can use my thoughts and my support group to not engage in unhealthy behaviors.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.