"Just eat and be happy": Surviving the holidays (in recovery from an eating disorder)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Girls Copy 2 800X675 1 | &Quot;Just Eat And Be Happy&Quot;: Surviving The Holidays (In Recovery From An Eating Disorder)

The holidays are the “most wonderful time of year”, and statistically, the most stressful.

In fact nearly 61% (6 in 10) of Americans experience increased stress during the holiday season.

Financial pressures, crowded malls and parking lots, less routine, less personal time, end-of year deadlines, additional cooking and cleaning tasks, travel, lots of ‘quality’ family time… Couple this with a person’s individual struggle with an eating disorder, and stress is an understatement.

For years, throughout my struggle with ED, I dreaded the holidays.

The holidays meant:

  • All eyes on me
  • An increased focus on food
  • Being out of routine
  • Feeling out of control
  • Pressure to eat new foods or refrain from my workout schedule
  • Wanting to curl up in a ball and hide
  • Overwhelm and overload


I’d pack my frozen turkey patties and Crystal Light to eat for my holiday meals; pay $50 for a 24-hour access gym pass for the day of Christmas; and spend hours meticulously pre-planning my meals and workouts for the time I was away from my own home routine—completely unable to be ‘present’ with ED standing (as a wedge) between me and everyone else.

Anyone relate?

  • Planning how to sneak in your behaviors to binge, purge, or restrict
  • Anxiously worrying about the change in your usual routine
  • Increasing your behaviors prior to your holiday travels or the actual day of the holiday—out of stress and ‘making up’ for time spent away from your routine
  • Toting your usual turkey sandwich, or other ‘safe’ foods, to the holiday meal to feel in control
  • Running yourself into the ground to ‘pay for’ partaking in the holiday meal or not working out your usual amount
  • Stuck in your HEAD
  • And on and on

ED sucks.

He sucks all the fun, and joy, and love, and presence out of the holidays in order to keep you STUCK and ENTRENCHED in your unhealthy, yet oddly comforting and calming ways.

If you find yourself facing another holiday feeling in bondage to ED, consider these survival tips for not only “getting through”, but actually turning over a new leaf in your recovery journey:

Holiday Survival in Eating Disorder Recovery 

WWHMD? First things first: Ask yourself, “What would healthy me do?”—the healthy you, the recovered you that you aspire to be. This question time and time again has always directed me to embody the mindset and the thriving girl I always aspire to be. Even if you do not feel like you are her yet, the more you direct your thoughts to thinking, acting, behaving like she would, the more your actions line up. For where our mind is, our actions will follow.


Move your body with gratitude. I can’t claim to be a yogi, but every time I do partake in a class, I am always rocked by the words many teachers say, “Honor your body”…or “Give your body thanks for what it can do and where you are today”… “Be just as you are—don’t push yourself, meet your body right where it’s at.” In other words: Just be. Instead of pounding the pavement, slaving away on the treadmill, checking off your workout routines because you “have to,” or earning your food…switch your mindset. How can you best honor your body today—with movement being part of that puzzle? Movement is not a bad thing in and of itself, but when our focus becomes more on contorting, controlling, shaping and coping with life and other shit, and less on honoring our bodies and taking care of our bodies…movement gets messed up. Really think about what moves you—and incorporate it to feel AMAZING—inside and out.


Open up. Find your confidant. Your supporter. Someone you can just talk to. This could be your best friend, your therapist or counselor, your little sis, a mentor or coach…whoever that person or two is in your life that you trust and can let off everything on your heart and in your head. Keep up with them throughout the holidays, and pencil in a particular time to touch base. So much of what keeps you stuck in ED is the secrecy, shame and stress—find empowerment simply by opening up.


Use your voice. If someone is pressuring you to eat something you really don’t feel comfortable eating…or giving you extra guilt or pressure to refrain from a particular routine…or telling you the way you are living is wrong…this is the time to use your voice. You are pursuing a recovered lifestyle now, and by referring back to point #1 (choosing to make decisions out of your HEALTHY SELF), you can let them kindly know that you ARE pursuing a recovered lifestyle (you KNOW the truth on this). By not using your voice on issues like this, your eating disorder tends to rear its ugly head even more (backfire)—kicking up a notch to cope with the extra pressure you feel from others around food, fitness, and lifestyle.


Get outside yourself. So many ways to find peace of mind…break a smile…and relieve stress. Find what works for you. Here are some ideas:

  • Fight the voices—choose to replace negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Punch a pillow
  • Don’t fear asking for help
  • Call or text someone
  • Jump up and down 10 times like you mean it
  • Take a leisurely walk
  • Make a recovery playlist (with your fight songs!)
  • Stay in touch with others, don’t isolate yourself
  • Go to your favorite safe location (a beach, park, playground, bookstore)
  • Throw a nerf ball at the wall
  • Get out of the house for a minute
  • Go visit a nursing home and make someone else’s day
  • Go on a long drive
  • Take a trip to a toy store and people watch
  • Color in a coloring book, paint or doodle
  • Spend time with a child (a neighbor, a niece/nephew, your friend’s kiddos, your own!)
  • Take a deep breath, and count to 10
  • Take a hot shower
  • Eat something different, but still “safe”
  • Dance to music
  • Claim: “I am right where I am supposed to be today”—in process
  • Say what you feel out loud
  • Get some fresh air
  • Clean out your closet and donate old clothes to charity
  • Put lavender on the back of your neck
  • Drink some fresh, clean lemon water
  • Change your environment
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath
  • Create something
  • Collage or scrapbook
  • Make up your own list of coping tools—or add to this one


 Do you have a particular strategy you’ve used for ‘surviving the holidays?’ Post to comments and share your inside scoop!


And if you find yourself wanting or needing extra support in YOUR recovery journey, I love nothing more than partnering with girls and women in recovery to experience FREEDOM for themselves.


Whether you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder or simply find yourself struggling with crazed thoughts around food or fitness, eating “enough” or “too much”, or just wanting to be in a healthy, I work with people from all walks of life!


Don’t hesitate to reach out to me today at [email protected] or fill out my contact form here for a free consult.  

One thought on “"Just eat and be happy": Surviving the holidays (in recovery from an eating disorder)

  1. I thought this post was extremely helpful, if for nothing else it made me not feel crazy for having my ED act up around the holidays. I could totally relate to not wanting to eat in front of people in fear of what they will think or say. Unfortunately this holiday season I am not as healthy as I should be emotionally. All your advice was extremely helpful to get through some of the hardest parts of the holiday. However a part you did not touch on is all the comments I know I am going to get, good or bad, the comments always seem to trigger me the most. how do you combat these thoughts or hold your own even if the truth is the comments truly trigger you? And no matter how hard to try to forget they are like a broken record in your head that feeds the eating disorder?

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