Each year, as the calendar flips to November, I’m hit with a reminder of how complex the holiday season feels in eating disorder recovery. Of course, that’s not unique to those with a history of eating disorders. This time of year can be overwhelming for anyone. In 2021, three out of five surveyed Americans felt their mental health worsen over the holidays, with 60 percent noticing a rise in anxiety, and 52 percent noticing a rise in depression.1 Now couple all that with eating disorder stressors or behaviors, and this hectic season can become even more fraught. So with the 2022 festivities just around the corner, let’s acknowledge it: The holidays are complex in eating disorder recovery—and that is alright. 

I Don’t Want to Ignore How Complex the Holidays Are Anymore

When I was younger, the entire holiday season was a loud, boisterous affair that left me exhausted. I come from a large Italian family who loves to cook and eat, while discussing the amount of calories they cook and eat. At the holiday tables I grew up around, it was normal to commiserate about foods we “should not” consume or how much “damage control” we would have to do later as penance for the meal. As a child, I always found this ritual unpleasant, but when anorexia took hold of me as a teenager, the pressure of those conversations became downright untenable. The problem was, I could never quite articulate my own distress, so I just fumed in silence with a calm, stoic mask plastered across my face.   

Back then, I learned how to ignore the mental and emotional toll the holiday season took on me. I forced myself to smile and laugh at all the food-centric banter, while pretending I wasn’t about to crumble from anxiety on the inside. I thought my role in the family was to accept this normalized status quo, even if it slowly broke me. But I feel much differently now, and I will not hesitate to shut down (or walk away from) a harmful conversation. Moreover, I’m done acting as if the holidays are effortless to navigate because—at least, in my experience—they aren’t. I no longer want to fake ease, comfort, or detachment. I would rather give myself permission to own that holidays are complex in eating disorder recovery. 

I’m Learning to Care for Myself When the Holidays Feel Complex

There might come a time when this season is no longer a source of tension or overwhelm. But as of right now, the holidays still feel complex and often wearisome to maneuver. I am not ashamed of this, but I also refuse to compromise my eating disorder recovery. So I cope with an abundance of grace. If I need more self-compassion than usual, I receive it. If I need time alone to decompress, I take it. If I need a certain boundary in place, I enforce it with no apologies. Those actions are far outside my comfort zone, but I can choose to love and care for myself in the midst of a complex holiday season.


  1. Holiday 2021 Stress Report: Increase in Anxiety, Depression & COVID-Related Stress. (2021, November). Sesame. https://sesamecare.com/blog/lowering-holiday-stress-2021

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