How to survive Thanksgiving when you’re in bulimia recovery

Catherine Liberty's picture

The holiday season is almost upon us, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner it’s important to prepare yourself physically and mentally for any potential challenges that come your way. 

When you’re in bulimia recovery, food-orientated holidays like this can be especially difficult to manage. You may worry about  facing those holiday sized food portions, receiving potentially triggering comments from family members or being unable to stick to your usual meal plan.  

This time of year can be very challenging, but that doesn't mean relapse is inevitable!

Of course I know from my own experiences how completely terrifying and exhausting this time of year can be, so I decided today was the perfect time to share some of my favourite tips for surviving the holiday season when you’re bulimic (and in recovery). 

I hope this 5 step plan to surviving the holiday season will enable you to navigate those food minefields, while avoiding diet obsessed relatives and food-pushers in the process. 

5 steps to avoiding relapse during the holiday season

STEP 1: EAT REGULARLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY – As many of you know this is the golden rule for recovery and it's especially important to stick to regular eating when you're likely to be around triggering foods or stressful situations.  While it may be impossible to stick to your usual recovery meal plan, you need to ensure that you’re eating regularly through the day if you're to avoid uncontrollable urges to binge eat. If you’re not preparing the holiday meal yourself, find out the approximate time it will be served and try to plan your other meals and snacks around it.

STEP 2: PLAN YOUR REACTIONS TO COMMON TRIGGERS AHEAD OF TIME  – Use our free mental rehearsal tool to plan your reactions to any common triggers ahead of time. This way you actually train yourself to deal with these situations more appropriately if they arise in real life. For example if you know there is a relative who is likely to comment on your eating behaviours then consider the most healthy and recovery-focused way to react if this situation does arise and visualize your response ahead of time.  As most of you know I'm a huge fan on mental rehearsal, it really does help you to prepare for difficult situations. 

STEP 3: PREPARE TO FACE "FOOD-PUSHERS" - We all know that person who loves to show their love via food. They offer you second and third helpings and take it as a personal insult if you refuse. Unfortunately in recovery you must learn to say no to more food if you’ve eaten enough, regardless of how it makes someone else feel. It’s important to not be bullied into eating too much, instead thank the person, tell them you are full and perhaps add, “I’d love to take some home with me though” or “can you save me some for later?” (whether you intend on eating the food later or not). 

STEP 4: PREPARE SOME CONVERSATION CHANGERS - It's likely that you'll have to deal with at least one conversation regarding weight, food or dieting during the holiday season and being well prepared can really help you to avoid immediately spiraling into relapse-mode. I used to find it helpful to think of 3 generic topics that you can bring up in order to change the conversation flow. Asking about work, home life, children and other interests can be great places to start. Take a look at my article on dealing with toxic conversations in recovery for further advice on this. 

STEP 5: ALWAYS HAVE AN AFTER MEAL PLAN - Immediately following your meal you may experience strong urges to binge and/or purge, so it is vital to have a set plan of action just in case. For example you may plan to go on a family walk, watch a movie with a sibling, call a friend, wash up the dishes, take some time out to check in with a recovery buddies, etc.  

Some additional tips...

  • Wear comfortable, non-restrictive clothing.
  • Refuse to take part in diet and fat talk.
  • Try to avoid making food comparisons (here's some further advice on avoiding food comparisons)
  • Limit your alcohol intake to avoid binge-provoking blood sugar dips. 
  • Ask someone you trust to help you with accountability through the day.
  • Focus on your feelings of gratitude and actively ask others what they are thankful for. 
  • Include some of those wonderful festive foods as part of your meals and snacks so you don’t feel mentally deprived. 
  • Have an escape plan, something that will allow you to take a few minutes to yourself to relax and gather your thoughts and focus. 
  • Remember to eat slowly and mindfully, putting your knife and fork down between bites. 

First holiday season in recovery from bulimia?

If this is your first holiday season in recovery I really wish you the best of luck. Remember to check in with your recovery buddies often and keep your support network active during this time. If you’d like some more handy tips and tricks then you may find the following articles helpful: 

Thinking of telling someone you have bulimia?

Dealing with triggering conversations 

Strategies for avoiding obsessive weight checking

Strategies for overcoming evening binge urges

Unique bulimia recovery strategies


zannah's picture
Really helpful. I will plan

Really helpful. I will plan how to respond to peer pressure eating in advance. Thanks.


Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
I'm so glad you found this

I'm so glad you found this helpful Zannah :) I always found the peer pressure and dealing with "food-pushers" one of the more challenging aspects of recovery, but planning ahead like this really can help.

Catherine x

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi everyone, you may also be

Hi everyone,

you may also be interested in checking out this Christmas Survival article:

It has some great tips on how to adapt structured eating for the holiday season.

Catherine x's picture
1st Thanksgiving in 23 years

1st Thanksgiving in 23 years BP free.... It was a little rough but I did it. The day before while preparing, I slipped. I did not practice SE and I lost focus. Between All The kids and chaos I put recovery second :-( ugh. When I lose focus that is when I get in trouble.


Join the Recovery Program & Support Community. Tell me more


Get access to our FREE mini course to end binge eating







The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.


Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.