by Sharon R. Peterson, LCSW-C
Founding Director of: Eating Disorder Network of Maryland

The holidays are not relaxing and fun for everyone, especially those with an eating disorder (E/D). They may dread the day when the table is completely filled and over-flowing with deliciously home cooked or catered food along with the sounds of relatives and loved ones laughing and enjoying themselves. They are already obsessing about numbers, calories, fat grams or how they will appear in an outfit. They are already trying to figure out how to cheat and sneak off to the bathroom without being noticed or convince a loved one that they have indeed finished all the food on their plate.

Feeling guilty comes naturally to someone with an E/D. Most of your clients with an E/D also have problems with anxiety, depression, and OCD. They may be struggling or over-worry about seeing a relative that they don’t like or have a conflict with. Where do their thoughts go? They go directly to the one coping skill that they feel has “saved them” or helped them get through a sticky situation in the past. They head straight to “acting on” E/D symptoms. Manipulating food in one way or another has become a security blanket. Eating or restricting caloric intake will temporarily take their brain off whatever they are REALLY worried about or it will give them a false sense of control.

Here are some tips you can use to help your clients:

Bulimia & Binge Eating Disorder:

  • Use a smaller plate when going to get appetizers.
  • S-L-O-W down when eating. Put your fork down and chat with the people around you. This will allow your stomach to catch-up to your brain and alert you when you are getting too full.
  • Remember to be mindful of the holiday. It is NOT a holiday to “just eat.”
  • Make sure you eat regularly throughout the day so you don’t go to the table famished or too hungry.
  • Have a “buddy” that you can check in with during the meal.


  • Follow the meal plan your treatment team gave you.
  • Use a “buddy” to talk to if you start struggling or panicking
  • Downplay the “feast” type image in your head. This is just a regular meal like the rest of them. Don’t make this one any different. You can NOT gain lots of weight in one day. It isn’t possible.
  • Allow yourself to try some new foods that you haven’t tried before. Make your plate colorful by adding foods with different textures, shapes, and colors. Even if you can only try one new food it is a step in the right direction.

Helpful links:

Eating Disorder Network of Maryland (EDN Maryland)
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders (ANAD)

Do you work with E/D clients? Please share any tips or advice that you have for this group of people as a comment to this article.

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