Do you feel anxious over the holidays around food and family members? Are you allowing the eating disorder to give you a false sense of control over your life? What are some tips to help you get through the holidays and enjoy them instead of dread them? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks about Holidays and Your Eating Disorder.


  • Holiday time and eating disorder anxiety
  • A false sense of control
  • Tips for managing disordered behaviors over the holidays

Holiday time and eating disorder anxiety

The holidays can be a stressful time for people who are struggling with eating disorders. It is a time surrounded by family, friends, and lots of food.
These eating disordered thoughts, feelings, and behaviors existed and consumed everyday life even before the holidays, but everything was amplified over the holidays. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)
Eating disorders can push people to isolate themselves from others due to feelings of shame, unworthiness, and a fear of perceived judgment. Therefore, Thanksgiving and December can be stressful months for people who struggle with disordered eating.

A false sense of control

Some people use their eating disorder as a sense of structure and routine for their lives, and anything that impacts the eating disorder seems to impact this sense of control. However, this is backward. The eating disorder is what is upsetting the rest of your life, and tackling the disorder is what will bring back a true sense of calmness and security.
I wasn’t in control. I couldn’t enjoy the holidays. If I was in control then I would have been able to go a day, even a few days, without working out. I would have been able to eat food without feeling guilty or eat food without having any emotions tied to it. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)

Tips for managing disordered behaviors over the holidays

Acknowledge what you are feeling:

Validating the emotion is the first step to overcoming it. Validating it does not mean acting on it, it simply means that you acknowledge its presence and do not try to suppress it or judge it.

Have compassion for yourself:

The holidays are not always a stress-free and happy time for everyone. For some people, this time can be lonely, difficult, or triggering. Do not feel like you “must” be glad during this time.

Ask for help:

Reach out to a trusted family member or friend who can support you throughout this time. You do not have to go through it alone and with no one the wiser as to how you are feeling.

Permit yourself to eat some of your favorite holiday foods:

This may seem impossible, but allow yourself to have some of your favorite things so that you do not feel deprived and end up binging later on.
If you give yourself permission to eat what you want when you want, and however much you want, it helps you to not obsessively think about those foods. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)

Set healthy boundaries for yourself:

Know who you will be around. If there is a family member who may trigger you by discussing difficult topics, plan some self-care or change your plans so that you do not have to interact with them. Be honest with yourself about what you need, it is okay not to overcommit yourself and you can leave whenever you want.



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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Podcast Transcription

[CRISTINA CASTAGNINI]: Behind The Bite podcast is part of a network of podcasts that are good for the world. Check out podcasts like the Full of Shift podcast, After the First Marriage podcast and Eating Recovery Academy over at Welcome to Behind The Bite podcast. This podcast is about the real life struggles women face with food, body image and weight. We're here to help you inspire and create better healthier lives. Welcome. Well, hello everyone. I don't know about you, but I really missed being able to celebrate the holidays last year due to the pandemic. And although the coronavirus isn't gone, we're not in the same place as we were just a year ago and I'm really excited for the holidays this year. For that, I'm really grateful, grateful, because that was not always the case. There were many, many holidays that I felt anything but excited for them. I actually felt dread, anxiety and really just a whole lot of stress. I remember looking at all of these people around me who seemed to be so happy and enjoying themselves as they went around making travel plans, they were wrapping gifts and they were just really, disgusting food, really excited about the food. They looked forward to eating all these things and all I remember thinking to myself was that I just wish I could have had an ounce of their joy, just a small dose of their excitement for the celebrations that were coming ahead. Because all I could think about was how on earth I was going to fit in exercise when I knew that the gym was going to be closed and worried about how I was going to be able to get out of eating anything that was on my bad food list. But I knew that my routine was going to be off during the holiday and that alone would send me into a tailspin and cause huge amounts of anxiety. I recall how stressful it was to even think about what I was going to wear, worried about how awful I looked in anything I wore. I worried that everyone would think I'd gained so much weight since the last time they saw me and then they would judge anything I had put on my plate that day. I was totally consumed with my eating disorder during the holidays. So I would really up my behaviors before any event convincing myself that if I did that, I could somehow allow myself permission to eat at events and hopefully not feel guilty. Somehow I thought if I up all of my behaviors, I could manage all of the anxiety and angst I would feel for not getting in my workouts. But you know what, all I remember is the immense guilt I would feel after say every Thanksgiving or after every Christmas, because I berated myself for being so bad and I remember that my mind would be consumed with thoughts about how much of a failure I was. I felt so gross in my body and I just remember after every event, I would just engage in body checking behaviors, I would weigh myself several times the day, I looked in any reflective surface and it was all these things to try to calm my anxiety because I desperately wanted something to let me know I had not totally screwed everything up. I just needed some number or anything to get me out of my misery where back then, if I could have just skipped the meal part of the holidays, I would've. But you know what, when I think about it, I know even that would've not been enough. There was just stress being around other people and worrying about what they thought about my appearance and my weight. And I felt horrible in my body. All I wanted to do was hide and avoid looking at anyone or having them look at me too. I recall being so envious watching everyone else just eat whatever they wanted and they looked so happy doing it. They were somehow enjoying the food and I just wanted to know how they could do that. And I wondered why couldn't I? If I did that, I knew my body would get so big and even more disgusting than it already was. That's what my mind was telling me. And I hated that back then and I felt trapped in this body that was so different from everyone else's. That's what I had convinced myself. My eating disorder voice was telling me your body's so different. You're not like everyone else. And I blamed myself for that. It was my fault. I wasn't doing enough. I just had to try harder and be better somehow. And these eating disorder, thoughts, these feelings, these behaviors, they of course existed and consumed my everyday life even when it listened to the holidays that everything was amplified around the holidays. And when I think about why it's because there's such a focus on food and such a focus on being social and around other people. And when I was in my eating disorder, I liked to isolate. I liked to be by myself. I had to engage in my routines and my rituals and when there's events, you can't do that. Or at least I couldn't. The holidays caused a huge disruption in my schedule and my routine. It really got in the way of my eating disorder. This eating disorder was the one thing back then that I felt kept my life in order and helped me feeling and control. It was the one thing that helped me feel like I had to hold over my body and wait and helped me feel like I wasn't going to go completely out of control. Only now that I think about it, I realize that the eating disorder was the one thing completely controlling me. I wasn't in control. I couldn't enjoy the holidays. If I was in control, then I would've been able to go a day or even a few days without working out. I would've been able to eat food without feeling guilty or just eat food without having any emotions tied to it. After all I'm not good or bad based on what I eat, but that was not the case back then. And I can imagine that there are so many of you out there listening right now, who are right there right now, so many of you for whom the holidays are, but exciting and joyful. For you, the holidays must be extremely stressful and I can only imagine your eating disorder thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are probably really increasing right now. So I want to talk about this, like what to do. How do you manage to get through the holidays when you have an eating disorder? Well, I think the first thing is to acknowledge how you're feeling and to know this is normal. When you have an eating disorder and you're going to attend an event that is primarily focused on eating as the main event, look like Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is all about the food. Why would you think for a second that you are not going to be stressed out? Have some compassion for yourself. Look, not everyone looks forward to the holidays for many reasons. You, like other people may also be stressed out and not looking forward to them regardless of your eating disorder. For instance, if you don't necessarily get along with your family or have any difficult family dynamics, the holidays can certainly bring these to the surface and be anything but happy occasions. Likewise, if you don't have any family or they're far away and you can't be with them, the holidays can feel extremely lonely and difficult. Similarly, for some who've gone through like a recent breakup or don't have a significant other and want one, the holidays can really bring up a lot of painful emotions and feel really lonely. I also hear from people who don't have eating disorders say they experience increased stress during the holidays with trying to get everything done because they're rushing around buying presents and they're getting invited to more social events and they're just feeling really busy and frazzled. I also hear a lot of people really feeling financially burdened right now because travel expenses and presence, it's just really a hard time to fit financially. So please show yourself some self-compassion. It's okay to struggle and to feel overwhelmed, but try to be nice to yourself and acknowledge how difficult the holidays can be. I know this is easier said than done. I totally get it, but really try to hear what I'm saying. You are only human and you are not failing. You have an illness you did not choose to have that can be extremely difficult to manage around the holidays. I also want to encourage you ask for help. As yourself if there's a friend or family member you trust you can ask to be a support person during the holidays. Now it would be ideal if that person is also going to be present at the events with you but if they can't be, can you ask someone you trust to be available to text or call if you need some support? This is something I really strongly encourage. Look, other people there may or may not know you have an eating disorder and whether you tell people or not, that's totally up to you. But even if everyone there knows that you do that doesn't mean they may not inadvertently say something that triggers you or that the conversation may not head into something very difficult for you. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I've heard my patients crying after holiday meal with loved ones who unintentionally trigger them by saying something like, oh, I'm stuffed. I better hit the gym tomorrow, or I'm going to get so much weight after today. I'm starving myself all next week. Or had to sit there at the conversation at the dinner table, turn to diets and weight loss techniques, and having people make comments about how much or how little food was on their plates. If you have someone there who can try and change the conversation or grab you and bring you into another room to talk, it can be extremely beneficial and help you. Likewise, being able to excuse yourself and go call your support person if they're not physically present with you can be a huge help. Also try to give yourself unconditional permission to eat all of your favorite holiday foods. Now this may sound like it's totally impossible, but I'm not allowing yourself to eat the foods that you want to. Let your eating disorder take over until you shouldn't eat certain food and it backfires. You're going to leave the event feeling deprived. And this only creates a deprivation cycle in your mind and body and can lead to you feeling out of control around food, especially your favorite foods. Instead, if you give yourself permission to eat what you want when you want and however much you want, it helps you to not obsessively think about those foods. Again, harder to do, I get it, but think about it. Have you ever deprived yourself foods you wanted and then ended up binging on them later and then feeling extremely guilty afterwards? I want you to try and set health boundaries for yourself. Know yourself and those you're going to be around. If you know you're going to be around people who are going to engage in lots of diet talk or people in your life who you don't necessarily get along with and want you to try to pre-plans and self-care, so drive yourself or try to get there yourself and leave if you need to. It's unfortunate, but not everyone's family is healthy to be around and not everyone gets along. It would be great if that were true, but you need to be honest with yourself. If that's not the case for you, it's ok to leave and not overcommit yourself. Now, a word of caution here, make sure if you're leaving an event is truly maintaining healthy boundaries and not giving into your eating disorder. It can be so easy to isolate and leave situations and events that involve food so that your eating disorder can be maintained. So avoiding dessert time or leaving to go engage in any eating disorders like purging or binging are not the same as leaving because you're triggered by the situation you're in. Holidays are really a time also to increase your self-care. So perhaps this is having more therapy sessions or starting therapy. Maybe it's taking some time off of work, or maybe it's just snuggling up on the couch with a warm blanket and your pet. Everyone's different and has different ways they can decrease and manage their stress. But whatever it is for you, I really strongly encourage you to do much more of that right now. One more thing to think about when you're at a holiday event, I know that there's going to be food and eating, which is the most difficult part probably, but also try to focus on the other parts of the event to try to get your mind off of the food. Is there anyone there you really enjoy spending time with that maybe you haven't seen in a while and you can spark up a conversation? Are there other diversions away from food? So maybe you can start up a group game or activity that gets everyone involved. I just want you to try to think and find a way to keep something other than food at the forefront of your mind, because that can be really beneficial. Again, I know this is one of the most difficult times for so many of you out there who have eating disorders or disordered eating. So again, try to have some self compassion for yourself. I would love to hear from you and hear how you're taking care of yourselves during this time. Please go to my website after the show at and comment on this episode. I always read each and every comment and I really do look forward to hearing from you. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or any other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.