Navigating the Holidays When You’re Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This time of year is an absolute dumpster fire when it comes to diet culture. People are going to talk about food, and how sinful it is, and how bad they were over Thanksgiving, and how they really shouldn’t eat another Christmas cookie, and how they’ll have to make up for their devilish choices in the gym — for the next two months straight. And everyone will agree with them and commiserate about how they had two — yes, TWO — pieces of pie after a second helping of dinner. They’re just out of control.

Being a person in recovery from ED makes me want to scream at all of these people.

Because we know. We know that the holidays are a really hard time of year for people who are dieting. Because dieting was our entire life.

And hearing about how terrified you are of getting fat after eating a Christmas cookie is doing no one any good. Give yourself, and the rest of the people around you, a break from your diet-obsessive commentary so that people can enjoy things.

It takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where I can eat a slice of pie without hating myself. And pie is delicious. I will probably have two pieces, and then I will look at my cellulitey thighs and tummy rolls in the mirror and my eyes will glance up to see the sheer joy on my face as I watch myself existing in my body without hating it, and I will be happy I ate that pie.

But it took me a long time to get here.

How to avoid ED triggers (as much as possible)

It’s impossible to control what other people talk about, but you can establish boundaries and tell the people in your usual circles that you prefer not to discuss diets. This is a tough part of eating disorder recovery but it’s important.

The people who listen to your boundaries and make changes in what they talk about around you so they are less likely to trigger you are making an effort. The people who roll their eyes and keep doing what they’re doing regardless of how it hurts you are being pretty rude. Do what you can to keep the rude people at a distance.

If you’re comfortable talking about it, a short conversation can help your coworkers and friends understand what you are going through. Eating disorders are often silent and unnoticed, especially because society praises weight loss and thinness regardless of how much stress you’re placing on your body to achieve a lower BMI.

Stick to the basics in your conversation. You don’t owe everyone a complete unpacking of diet culture, Health at Every Size, or your own personal eating disorder history in order to ask them to take a step back from the diet talk.

Try an outline like the following:

Hey, I need to talk to you about something I’m going through and how you can help me handle it better. I have been struggling with an eating disorder and I’m in recovery now. I need to ask for some space around the topics of dieting and weight loss while I work on these issues. I appreciate it, thanks!

This framework will give you something to refer back to later, in case someone stumbles into a trigger.

How to shut down diet talk

Unfortunately, standing up to diet culture is a year round battle, but it can get especially difficult in the winter holiday season when people are fighting hard against their natural inclination to rest and recover with the colder seasons.

It’s okay, and normal, to gain a few pounds over the winter, but people push themselves with weight loss competitions from Thanksgiving to Christmas and put themselves on cleanses and avoid social events for fear of wanting to eat some cheese.

If you, too, are tired of dealing with holiday diet culture, try some of the following statements when people start in on the diet talk:

  • I enjoy this time of year and all the food that comes with it. I’d prefer not to talk about dieting, can we talk about something else?
  • You don’t have to feel guilty about food.
  • It’s just food, it’s okay to eat it.
  • I’d rather talk about something else.
  • Talking about dieting is keeping me from enjoying this holiday meal. Can we talk about something else?

These are pretty basic and can be tailored to whatever situation you’re in. It gets a little trickier when you’re dealing with family members who might feel like they have a right to comment on your body or weight. Try these:

  • I was very unhealthy when I was dieting and I’ve stopped. Aren’t you glad I’m doing what’s best for me?
  • Yes, I have gained weight. I’m a lot less stressed, too!
  • Please don’t make any more comments about my body or the food I am eating. I will leave. (If they do it again, leave. You don’t owe someone your presence).

Practice makes more practice

You’ll never feel perfect at defending your boundaries around diet culture, but that’s okay. You will probably come up against an unexpected trigger at some point, and you may need to work through it to get back to your new normal.

Find out which friends in your circle are able to support you when you’re feeling a spiral back into old disordered habits. I have friends who check on me to make sure I’ve eaten, and I know who I can go to and say “I ate dinner but I’m still hungry” for them to tell me to go have another snack if I am still hungry. I still need these external cues sometimes after starvation was my norm for so long.

You can do this. I am proud of you.

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of

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