Making the Most of Christmas in Recovery

For those of you who don’t follow us on Instagram, you might not have seen our alternative advent with a little quote or snippet each day to help keen you motivated this month. It’s been one of my favourite campaigns to work on this year, both in its simplicity to put together but also in how the First Steps ED team, both staff, volunteers and service users, were able to come together and share our thoughts, fears and advice around the holidays. (Please do check it out if you haven’t already!)

It’s no secret. Recovery from an eating disorder over Christmas can be far from ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. It’s a whole season of food and festivities. Restaurants launch their Christmas menus in November these days, shortly followed by advent calendars and tins of chocolates taking over every household in the UK. And then we have the wave of all the other events with ‘festive nibbles’, bubbly and merry banquets.

Suddenly it feels as though everything about Christmas is about food and there is no escape.

[If you haven’t already read it, check out our blog on ‘Creating Boundaries for Christmas‘]

It isn’t all bad. Christmas traditions are important and they can be what makes this season so special, whether they are centred around food, or not.

Think about it. Maybe you have memories surrounding the traditional Christmas meal, like the naff cracker jokes and encouraging your dad to wear the silly paper hats. Or, like me, you have a fond ‘festive failure’ (come on, we all have one!) I once spent a whole day making homemade gingerbread houses with my boyfriend and it was a total disaster, but we still laugh even now about the wonky snow shed we ended up with.

You might even have traditions that you don’t even realise, like the annual event of switching off the dining room lights and watching as someone sets fire to the Christmas pudding, like a mini fruity and festive bonfire.

As fun as these food traditions can be, Christmas with an eating disorder might make you feel far, far away from those traditions and make this year feel all the more difficult, especially if you find yourself unable to join in with certain traditions with your loved one, and feelings of isolation.

But there is more to Christmas than food, and this season is what you make it. So, wherever you are in recovery or whether you are anxious, nervous, scared or excited for Christmas, here are some alternative traditions that might help you turn that festive fear into festive cheer…

Go carol singing

Do people really do this nowadays? I’m not sure but I used to love this as a kid. We would throw a bucket down by the door and start singing! Sometimes they wouldn’t answer but our group of friends didn’t really mind, it was just fun to spread a little Christmas spirit and raise a bit of money for the local charities.

Go wreath-making

So, I haven’t actually done this one, but I have seen lots of this on Instagram this year. I’ve done a bit of research and you can join a class or book a session with a group of friends! I think this is good for those who like something a bit more creative, or just want a laugh with friends.

Christmas Movie Night

Okay so this might be an obviously one, but who doesn’t love a movie night? Especially at Christmas. It’s always good to catch up on the usuals but there are so many new ones these days! Netflix’s ‘Christmas Chronicles’ is one of my new favourites. (If you’re struggling to decide, Digital Spy has done the hard work for us and put together all the films that’ll be on TV over the next few weeks!)

Play Monopoly

Is it even Christmas is you don’t get into an argument with the family over the twists and turns of Monopoly? I mean, it doesn’t have to be Monopoly. My boyfriend’s family lean more towards Articulate, or Uno. My only advice here is to check the ‘house-rules’ because I’m sure all families have their own rules when it comes to board games!

Decorate the Tree

I was a bit late putting the tree up this year, but eventually I pulled my socks up and we did it – and I’m so glad we did! We got out the box of baubles and found last year’s homemade decorations and had such a laugh (they’re terrible btw). And now the tree brightens up our living room and makes me smile each evening.

Christmas Shoebox Campaign

OK, so I’m pretty sure it is too late for this one now (apologies!) but I saw this on a fellow FSED’ers Facebook page and thought this was awesome. At school (many, many, many years ago) we used to do this every year and the charity sends them out to other children in need. I think this is such a great tradition, and it feels so good to give back so maybe make a note for next year! Here’s the link to learn more.


There are lots of charities that might need your support at this time of year. Charities like ours, need volunteers to help us with continuing supporting those who are feeling isolated and alone over the holidays (and throughout the year!), as well as shelters are in need of blankets and warm clothes for the colder months. If you’re wondering if this might be a new winter tradition for you and your family, why not read our blog on the ‘Benefits of Volunteering’.

No time to volunteer, but want to donate?

It’s becoming more and more popular to switch out the usual Christmas card haul for an email and donation instead. It’s easier, environmentally-friendly and goes a long way to help us! Afterall, a Christmas card might be disposable, but our mental health is not. (Learn more here)

Go to the pantomime

You might think this one is a little niche, but they’re fun for all the family! I’d argue that the mix of adult humour alongside the traditional children’s storyline makes it great laugh for everyone… Even if you just remember it for the number of eye-roll moments.

The mistletoe mirror

I hadn’t heard of before, but I wanted to share it! It was actually a suggestion from one of our Instagram followers, and each year they hang some mistletoe over a mirror in the house so that when they catch themselves looking, they practice some positive affirmations.

Wow, who knew winter could be so fun?

This doesn’t mean to say you should avoid the festive food or the traditions that come with it, but at least you have some alternatives for if it gets too much. One day, you won’t be searching for a blog or download to get you through the holidays, you just will.

If there is one key takeaway this year… Don’t let the stress of the holidays take away from the moments and memories that can last forever.

Contributed by Lucy Robinson

Fundraising, Marketing and Communications Lead