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Holiday Survival Guide

Strategies for Women with Eating Disorders During the Holidays

Dr. Jeanne Rust

By Jeanne Rust, Phd

For many of us who are recovered, the holidays can be a time of joy and celebration. It's a time when we can be with family and dear friends. We share laughter, memories, sometimes tears — and finally, the pleasure of eating with our loved ones.

For people who are still struggling with eating disorders and depression, the holidays bring up many different kinds of stressors. Most holiday events future huge quantities of food. There may be a great deal of pressure from well-meaning friends and family to eat and drink more than is comfortable for us. Dysfunctional family interactions are another sources of stress. For some of us, holidays may bring up unpleasant memories of previous occasions. For others, holidays never quite live up to expectations. If we use eating disorder behaviors as a way of coping with stress in our lives, it's almost guaranteed that the holidays will be a time when we're most active in our behaviors, experiencing consequent increases in depression, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Therapists can help their clients through these difficulties by inviting them to role-play potentially stressful scenarios, and developing structured plans for navigating the holidays, as well as practicing assertiveness techniques to deal with family and social pressures. Your therapist may advise you to limit your exposure to particularly "toxic" people and destructive interactions.

But what if your therapist isn't available during the holidays? If you're struggling and have no one to call, you can Ask the Doctor for support. Mirasol's web site also offers links page to other eating disorder resources. And finally, experiment with Seventy Ways to Survive the Holidays (see below).

Be kind to yourself and those you love, and give yourself the gift of a warm and joyful holiday season!

Jeanne Rust, PhD

Seventy Ways to Survive the Holidays

If and when you're having a tough time during the holidays, begin by reading through this list. Check off the things that sound interesting to you. There are so many suggestions that you'll feel better by the time you reach the end! From

  1. Use the ideas below — and your own ideas — to make a Coping Bank!
  2. Write in your journal.
  3. Listen to your favorite music.
  4. Watch a sunset.
  5. Color in a coloring book.
  6. Play an instrument.
  7. Tell one person how you feel.
  8. Teach a child to play a game.
  9. Pop or stomp on bubble-wrap.
  10. Have a water balloon fight.
  11. Paint a picture.
  12. Go to the pet store.
  13. Take a long hot bath.
  14. Hug someone.
  15. Take a long drive.
  16. Pack up some clothes for charity.
  17. Go to a concert.
  18. Take a leisurely walk.
  19. Rent your favorite movie.
  20. Take a trip to the toy store.
  21. Go to a movie by yourself.
  22. Call an old friend.
  23. Finger paint or doodle.
  24. Build with blocks or Legos. Build a tower and knock it down.
  25. Wash your car with a friend.
  26. Pick dandelions.
  27. Have a snowball or water-gun fight.
  28. Play hopscotch.
  29. Paint a room.
  30. Read a book.
  31. Take a vacation.
  32. Take a nap.
  33. Count and roll loose change.
  34. Throw nerf balls, koosh balls or bean bags at a wall.
  35. Take a deep breath, count to 10.
  36. Call your therapist.
  37. Ask your therapist to make a tape with you that you can use during difficult times.
  38. Go to a favorite "safe" location (beach, park, woods, playground, etc.).
  39. Play your favorite childhood game.
  40. Hold and/or tell your favorite stuffed animal or doll your feelings.
  41. Join a chat room or online support group.
  42. Stay in touch with others through contact — don't isolate yourself.
  43. Remind yourself that, "I'm going to be okay" and "I'm not crazy." This is a normal part of the recovery process.
  44. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and rub your head to force yourself into your body.
  45. Count up 1 to 10, then down from 10 to 1.
  46. Describe out loud the things you see and smell.
  47. Touch the wall, the floor and objects close to you.
  48. Call someone on the phone.
  49. Walk around, watch your own feet — listen to the sound.
  50. Breathe deeply, and listen to your breathing.
  51. Listen to music and count the beats.
  52. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
  53. Hug someone safe.
  54. Hold someone's hand (someone safe).
  55. Tear up paper, throw ice, chew ice chips.
  56. Visualize the memory as an object and put it "away" (for example, the memory is a blue rubber ball and you put it in a toy box).
  57. Focus on details — leaves on trees, blades of grass, fibers in carpet.
  58. Fight the voices — change the negatives to positives.
  59. Gently wash your face, hands or hair.
  60. Rock in a rocking chair.
  61. Touch a familiar object that you carry with you (keys, a necklace) or listen to your watch ticking.
  62. Hold and pet your cat or dog.
  63. Make a list of things to do or a shopping list.
  64. Write down who and where you are.
  65. Say what you feel out loud, even if you have to yell or cry!
  66. Change your environment. Walk out of the room, touch something different or change the sounds around you (for example, music or TV).
  67. Eat something different and "safe".
  68. Smell something different (perfume, flowers, food, grass, etc.).
  69. Dance to music.
  70. Say out loud, "I am here right now". Assure yourself that this is a normal process for you.

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