Maintaining your bulimia recovery over Christmas

Catherine Liberty's picture

If you read our Thanksgiving newsletter a couple of weeks ago then you’ll already know that one of the most powerful tips to maintaining bulimia recovery over the holiday season involves ensuring that you eat regularly throughout the day. 

Of course, if you are in a position to stick to your usual structured eating plan and you will be preparing all of your own meals and snacks over the holidays then you may find it easier to use your usual formula for structured eating success.

But how do you stick to a structured eating plan when you’re surrounded by masses of potentially triggering festive foods? And what if you’re not able to prepare or plan your meals and snacks ahead of time due to a chaotic or unpredictable schedule? 

Just because you can’t stick to your usual structured eating plan, or plan the content of your meals ahead of time, does not mean the concept of structured eating has to be abandoned completely.

The key to surviving Christmas in Bulimia recovery under these cirumstances involves a commitment from you to relax and adapt your structured eating plan

1. Relaxing your structured eating plan to accommodate Christmas in recovery

Over Christmas you’ll undoubtedly experience some disruption to your usual daily routine so relaxing your structured eating plan gives you a realistic way to continue eating regularly without the added pressure of advanced meal planning and preparation. 

To do this, following your breakfast try to eat approximately every 3 hours through the day, just as you do with fully structured eating, but don’t worry too much about planning your meal and snack contents ahead of time. 

Removing the element of meal planning can be extremely beneficial at times like this; it gives you a lot more freedom around food and removes the intense pressure and stress of trying to stick to your regular structured eating plan, especially if you’re away from home. 

Taking on this more relaxed approach to Structured eating ensures that you are able to eat regularly throughout the day - even when you’re not able to plan your own meals in advance.


Do spend some time thinking about the different meal and snack options you may have, the foods that will be on offer to you and try to visualize portion sizes in your mind before you start to eat.

Do practice Mental Rehearsal to prepare yourself for making recovery-focused choices.

Do consider sticking to your usual breakfast.

2. Adapting your structured eating plan to avoid relapsing over Christmas

When it comes to adapting your plan one of the most important things to consider is allowing yourself to eat more festive foods, rather than your usual foods.

Deciding that you will completely avoid typical, or “less safe” Christmas foods will almost certainly set you up for failure, so it is important to consider in advance, how you can accommodate certain foods into your meal plan. 

As I discovered during my first Christmas in recovery from bulimia, replacing some of my usual balanced snacks for things like chocolate and Christmas cake, can actually be a wonderful idea. 


Well, it allows you to avoid a state of mental deprivation and will mean you’re much more likely to avoid bingeing on those foods later in the day. 

So consider the ways in which you can adapt your structured eating plan in order to include some festive foods, perhaps you’ll decide to eat those foods for snacks like I did!

Tip:  Christmas dinner a little later than planned? Then why not adapt your usual plan and eat two snacks in a row while you wait?

Practical strategys DO work, but remember to consider you emotions too

Eating something every 3 hours is a very practical strategy that should be helpful when managing your eating disorder over Christmas, but relaxing and adapting your eating approach can often be underpinned by fears of imperfection and other complex emotions.

Remember you do NOT have to be perfect, don’t allow that all or nothing thinking tell you otherwise. (Banish all or nothing thinking)

  • If you eat a little more, or a little less than usual that is okay.
  • If you eat a little sooner or a little later than usual that is okay too. 
  • It does NOT mean you will relapse and it is excellent practice for your future life as an intuitive and “normal” eater. 

Getting through Christmas without bingeing and purging

Whatever stage of bulimia recovery you are at, having a plan to survive Christmas and remain relapse-free is a very sensible idea.

If this is your first Christmas in bulimia recovery I really wish you the best of luck.  If you’d like more information on how to face Christmas triggers without relapsing then please do take some time to review these additional Bulimia Help articles:

5 steps to avoiding relapse during the holiday season

Telling someone you have bulimia

Avoiding Toxic Conversations (diet/fat/weight loss talk)

Avoiding the scale



kbdelia's picture
So this past thanksgiving was

So this past thanksgiving was the first one I went through in Recovery and I had read the article on getting through the holiday b/p free and after the 1st day at our cabin full of every kind of trigger food you could imagine i spent the next three days b/p on high sugar/carb sweets. I noticed that I actually started out well. Just having a small slice, piece, of whatever after dinner or lunch, but as the days continued, i wanted another slice the next day and figured I already had one yesterday so i couldnt have another one another day! because it would begin to compound, I was fearful of spending four full days eating even small slices of whatever and that is when i lost it, at the guilt and fear.

Im hoping to get it right this time.
fingers crossed!

"I have held many things in my hands and lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -- Martin Luther

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Hi there, I'm really sorry

Hi there,

I'm really sorry you had such a tough time over Thanksgiving this year, although it does sound like you started out very well. Also the fact that you've been able to take a step back and acknowledge the main reasons for slipping up means you can definitely build on those things this time.

Being around triggering foods is often unavoidable at this time, however one thing that really can help is just having those kinds of foods out of sight. So if you can, help people to "tidy away" foods, and clear up on behalf of others. Generally move everything you consider triggering out of sight.

Now you may think this wont make much difference, but some recent studies into eating and bingeing behaviour are showing us that actually we may be much more likely to binge and overeat after being visually stimulated (ie seeing the triggering food). Additional studies show that we tend to crave things a lot more when we either see images of those foods or see them in person.

In addition to this, you've really been able to identify that your all or nothing thinking really hindered your progress. Remember those thought processes that tell you "You can't eat this today because you had some yesterday" or "you've already eaten something 'bad' now so you might as well keep going" are just your eating disorder talking. You are much stronger than those thoughts, and you do not have to let them win.

Really try to go easy on yourself this year, deviating from your usual eating plan for a few days will not hurt you in any way. The most it will do is make you feel a little crappy in honesty.

That first Christmas, after replacing all of my snacks with things like chocolate and cake I started to feel a little unwell, I had less energy and ultimately I found that I wanted to eat those trigger foods less (although I had been in recovery for almost 6 months at that point). Despite those feelings, putting recovery first means you'll do anything to avoid relapse, so if eating festive foods for a handful of days means you'll prevent a binge it is so worth it. I promise you.

I really wish you all the luck in the world over Christmas, remember to come back to Bulimia Help for support when you can, you're not in this alone!

Take care,

Catherine x

Lamby's picture
I have problems with the day-

I have problems with the day- after leftovers. But I will keep all your tips in mind. I'm on my ninth day of recovery. It has been very hard and I always feel like I'm wavering on the brink of collapse. Have been feeling like a bloated beluga. The bloating is so horrendous. I'm afraid of gaining more weight and not being able to lose the weight. I force myself to follow the plan. Especially since because I've been having some related health problems. I will be out of town with our family for Christmas and am so looking forward to it. Miss my children so much. Glad to have some "ammo" to face all the Holiday goodies. Thanks

sally anton

eaw's picture
Hey Everyone...So the

Hey Everyone...So the holidays are over and I need some advice. I did so well over Christmas until a point. I was able to eat foods I was not comfortable with, eat in proportions I was comfortable with, and maintain a healthy scheduled eating schedule. However, after so many days, I found myself caught up in my families sick relationship with food again...huge proportions, a funny game of forcing others to eat while they don't, and food pushers. My mother actually one morning made a HUGE breakfast for me without asking me and then sat with a TINY vitamin juice. She has done that my whole life and while I eat and throw up these huge meals she sits and acts repulsed by the meal she just cooked! I don't understand. Since no one in my family even knows I have been bulimic for 13 years or that I am now in recovery, it made it very hard to set boundaries or stand up for myself. I finally just began eating food I was not ready for just to shut them up and ended up purging...more times then I have in the last 6 months.

I am very frustrated and trying not to feel bad about myself and this set back but can't figure out how I could have been stronger. In fact I even started feeling bad that no one was telling me that I was too thin...which is what I heard for years. I don't like how I can go back into that horrible thinking and I know I can't blame my family and will have to become strong enough to deal with it. But it was very very difficult.

Do you have any advice or does anyone else have similar experience with an entire extended family that has a strange relationship with food? And no one will talk about it or even is aware how screwed up it is? I could really use some advice.



Pauline's picture
Thanks for this article

Thanks for this article Catherine.

I am still at the very beginning of my recovery journey (2.5weeks) but in 3.5 months, I am going back to Belgium for holidays. I haven't seen my family and friends for more than 2 years, so I already see these holidays like a huge test.
I must say that I am also a bit scared as I know it will be full of dinners, BBQ, parties, desserts, etc... during 5 weeks!!!!

So I will read this article a few times and try to incorporate that as much as I can. I still have 3.5months to get trained to theses situations but I have no idea if this will be enough or not.
So thanks for these precious advices.



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