Navigating the Holidays with a Food Addiction: Tips and Resources

Walking in fall leaves

20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder (which includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and EDNOS). Eating disorder are not about food, it is about the underlying issues which can be triggered by anxiety and stress. Holidays can bring on both increased stress and anxiety and can be difficult for individuals to manage. When a person is in an active eating disorder, there are various ways to cope with the holidays.

Holidays and Understanding a Food Addiction

1.  Talking with the individual’s treatment team on developing a plan to manage the holidays as a whole, or individualized event. A plan could include new challenges, goals, exposures, or making a backup/alternative plan. Thinking through various triggers and scenarios can help eliminate some of the stress and anxiety around the event.

2.  Utilizing a support system can help alleviate feelings of isolation or managing the disorder alone.
Before the holidays the person can make a list of potential support persons. It could be family, friends, or other individuals in recovery. Getting together in person, or by phone prior to the event and express concerns for potential triggers and how others can help manage.

Woman pondering food addiction during the holidays3.  Recognizing that the person can change plans and not attend an event that could be significantly triggering.

4.  Focusing on loved ones and friends can help the person take the focus on eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and triggers.  If triggering conversations or situations occur the person can gently education others towards resources, or pre-rehearsed statements.

5.  Refrain from overcommitting to events during the holidays. This can add to stress and engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

6.  Keeping to a preset meal plan, determined by the treatment team, and shared with supports, can help reduce the risk of triggers.  Monitoring hunger and fullness cues while at holiday events can help individuals stay mindful and presently grounded.

Assessing the food prior to choosing options can be helpful. Getting a full assessment of what the food options are can help the person connect with what looks appetizing as well as line up with meal plan recommendations. Also, being able to bring personal food, or dish that feels ‘safe’ can help safeguard the person’s recovery focus.

7.  Remember self-care and self-soothing coping skills during the holidays. Coping skills such as gentle walking or jogging (if permitted by treatment team), writing, journaling, can help reduce the feelings of stress and engage ground and mindfulness skills. Lastly, using HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired), at holiday events can help individuals stay in touch with internal cues and know when to leave or take a break during celebrations. Remember to forgive if a relapse occurs and keep in touch with the treatment team.

Leaning From the Support of Loved Ones

Loved ones who are struggling with an eating disorder need additional support during the holidays. Here are some ways that families can offer assistance to loved ones.

  • Asking the loved one how they would like to be supported, such as, going with the person to events and gatherings, helping prepare foods to bring, practicing pre-determined statements for trigger family members and friends.
  • Work into the holiday season events and activities that do not involve food.
  • Offer to the loved one ways they can get away from the gatherings to destress or emotionally regulate.
  • Be careful of personal comments made about food, body shaming, diets, weight, or portion sizes. Even the most innocent comment can be triggering for some.
  • Be patient and continually express support during the holidays.
  • Consider family counseling to assist with additional support, coping skills, and tools.
  • Celebrate the small success and support in times of relapse. Knowing that family is available to help and support in times of need and in successful moments can help the person stay in the recovery process.
  • Make recover a priority for the entire family. It can maintain a positive well-being and successful recovery.

Holiday fun in the snowOverall, holidays can be a stressful time for persons struggling with an eating disorder. These individuals can benefit from having a solidified treatment team, support system and plan in place for managing the holiday season. Families can plan a significant part in the recovery process for loved ones struggling with an eating disorder. Remember to continually offer support, and celebrating success is a major key in having a successful holiday.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How do you cope with an eating disorder during the holidays? Share your tips here!

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University


[1]: Retrieved from 2016
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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 11, 2016
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.