Halloween through New Year’s Day can be a particularly challenging time of year for individuals who are living with an eating disorder. With so many of our holiday traditions being centered on food, it’s no wonder that this can be a stressful time.

Are your current ways of celebrating the holiday season a comfort to you? Do they fit the person you are now, and do they serve the person you are becoming?

When in or working toward recovery, it can be helpful to limit activities where disordered thinking can be activated. If your friends are running the Santa marathon, maybe you can meet them after for a holiday movie marathon. One of the many joys of eating disorder recovery is building a life that suits and inspires you. Doing this may require a shift in how you connect with others and celebrate the holidays.

Let’s try to cultivate holiday traditions where food is not the primary focus.

How do we do that? Let me share with you how others are doing it.

Focus on your other senses

Taste is not the only sense of the season. Notice the sights, textures, sounds and smells around you.

  • Richard makes December fun for himself and his daughters by admiring the twinkling lights all over town. The evening car trips to “ooh and ahh” over the elaborate displays is something they all look forward to.
  • Beth bundles up and goes for a walk in the woods, appreciating the snow, the solitude, and the scent of balsam.
  • Kiersten puts on holiday music and wraps her handmade and purchased presents in sumptuous paper, fabric, and ribbons. The creativity and love she invests is a gift not only to her recipient, but to herself.

Focus on what’s truly meaningful

What values do you hold most dear? What connects you to others and inspires you? Let your values define how you spend your time (If you are not yet clear what this might mean for you, you can never go wrong with expressing gratitude).

  • Scott and Jeff are members of a 12-step group. Every year they take part in organizing a gathering on New Year’s Eve at a local community hall. It’s an evening of laughter, sharing, and connection, and everyone is welcome.
  • Susan attends Choral concerts and holiday events, some through local churches. Listening to the music centers her and fills her with the spirit of her late mother, a choir director and vocalist.
  • Tylor hand delivers his Christmas cards to his friends who live locally. He likes to make sure they know how much he appreciates them by shaking their hand to wish them a happy new year.

Focus on what brings you joy

What activities bring you peace and make you smile? Do lots of that!

  • Megan and her family snuggle up on the couch for movie marathons.
  • Chris always gives a gift to someone in his life who is not expecting it. The unforeseen kindness brings joy to them both.
  • Stephanie likes to sit down with a cup of tea and write thank you notes to people who have positively affected her during the previous 12 months; a tradition that helps her wrap up the year.

There’s so much more to the holiday season than food; and there’s so much life ahead for a person in recovery. I wish you many years of traditions that you can look forward to!

See other posts related to eating disorders and the holidays:

Eating Disorders and the Holidays: 5 Tips to Support Your Loved One

7 Eating Disorder Recovery Tips for the Holidays

6 Helpful Tips for Navigating the Holidays with an Eating Disorder


Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES, is an engagement specialist for Walden Behavioral Care. Her role is to help our patients to navigate the admission process. Before becoming a member of Team Walden, Stephanie was a Senior Prevention Specialist at FCD: Prevention Works!, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation located in Newton, MA. Stephanie is a member of the National Wellness Institute and is a member of a number of training and prevention-focused committees. Stephanie earned her master’s degree from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she served as a graduate assistant to Margaret Burckes-Miller, founder and director of the university’s Eating Disorders Institute.