Help for the Holidays: 7 Ways to Keep Food Addicts in Recovery

Help for the Holidays: 7 Ways to Keep Food Addicts in Recovery


Rhona Epstein, Psy.D., C.A.C.


For clients with food issues and eating addictions, the holidays can be far from sweet. There’s serious risk of relapsing into a mad cycle of binges with all the visions of candy canes and Christmas hams, constant songs and jingles about food, and tempting sweets and excess at every turn. Add in the extra holiday demands of busyness, overspending, and complicated familial obligations, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Help your clients refocus on the purpose of the holidays and succeed in recovery by outlining a solid plan. As I tell my clients (and anyone dealing with addictive behaviors, especially when triggered by stress, family conflict, loneliness, and financial drain): Failing to plan is planning to fail. So map out a healthy plan with these tools:


Challenge Assumptions

Have your client ask: Who says I have to “have some” because it’s the holidays? Just because everyone else is having something excessive to eat and drink doesn’t mean I must too. Just because my favorite aunt made that pie doesn’t mean I have to have some to not offend her. Encourage self-talk and thinking like: “This is my body. I live with the consequences of what I eat, not your aunt.”


Think of Wants and Wishes

Urge clients to ask, “What is sweeter: The momentary taste of those pies, or the long-term benefits in reaching my goals?” Remind the client who is tempted to indulge just for the holidays that it’s ultimately far easier to stay on track than struggle to restart.  Help clients stay in recovery by implementing encouraging self-talk, recommending phrases such as, “I am doing this. I’m succeeding each moment, day, and week at a time.”


Confront What’s Naughty and Nice

Remind clients that indulging in trigger foods at the Thanksgiving feast or office holiday party is as disastrous as an alcoholic thinking all will be fine to indulge in just one toast of liquor on New Year’s Eve. Even for the holidays, the person with compulsions and addiction cannot take even one taste of whatever triggers them, just as people allergic to peanuts every other day will not be safe for a Reese’s peanut butter cup on Halloween.  It’s just as serious, and just as necessary.  To steer clear, plan to . . .

  1. Find out the menu for every feast and decide what to eat before facing overwhelming options. When you can’t know the menu, you can still decide: I need veggies, protein, healthy carbs, and some fat. I do not need sweets or appetizers unless they are healthy and I eat a limited amount. I do not need seconds. You can also offer to bring something healthy so you have what you need.
  2. Be clear and intentional. Don’t sit near the food table as the sight and scents of trigger foods can cause cravings.
  3. Pray your way through! Imagine God is at the table with you. He is holding your hand. All things are possible with Him.
  4. Draw upon support. Call someone who understands temptations and triggers. Excuse yourself to check in by text or phone on what your plan is and how it’s going. Asking for help to stay accountable is the best gift to give yourself.
  5. Take your attention off the food and find other purposes for your event, like meeting new people or getting to know some better. Remind yourself what each holiday is celebrating. Think of ways to be a blessing to host and guests. Enjoy the décor and focus on the beauty.
  6. Turn from temptation–period. Take a walk, call someone, turn away, or leave. This means you may be better off going to holiday events on your own so you can leave if things get too difficult.
  7. Think of the holidays as just another day. Don’t let the hype lure you into slipping into addictive cycles. No one ever died from avoiding apple pie on Thanksgiving.


Most of all, remind your clients that addictions and compulsions are life and death issues, even with food and drink. There is no party, gathering, or event worth losing recovery over. Sticking to a plan, and avoiding and abstaining from triggers to achieve an end result will bring more lasting delight than an hour of holiday eating pleasure. Twelve Step meetings and support is available through the holidays, as is Overeaters Anonymous. Search online at for “marathon phone meetings” in your state.



Rhona Epstein, Psy.D., C.A.C., is a licensed psychologist, certified addictions counselor, and marriage and family therapist in the Philadelphia area, and the author of the new book Food Triggers: End Your Cravings, Eat Well, and Live Better (Worthy Publishing). For more than twenty-five years, she’s lead seminars, conferences, and therapeutic workshops to help people overcome food addiction and its underlying issues. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Chestnut Hill College, and her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Temple University. She’s passionate, from her own personal experience and recovery from food addiction, to address the needs of the whole person (mind, body, and spirit). Visit her web site at