Family Gatherings with an Eating Disorder – Tips from Dr. Flores

family gatherings with an eating disorder people drinking hot chocolate in the snow

Hot chocolate and sledding with the whole family? It’s a tradition!

Family gatherings can be challenging for those in eating disorder recovery, especially during the holidays. We sat down with Dr. Anna Flores,  Doctor of Clinical Nutrition on staff at Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders (Sanford CTED). She gives us valuable tips on managing eating disorder recovery during the holidays, into the New Year, or whenever families gather.


A challenge for our clients with eating disorders is that family can be a big part of the holidays. They may have strained relationships with their family members, or have family members who are toxic to their recovery. Or even family members with disordered eating or eating disorders whose relationship with food is not conducive to recovery….there is a lot of pressure and feelings during the holiday season or whenever families gather. Dr. Anna Flores, Sanford Behavioral Health


Dr. Anna Flores “coming in hot” on taste buds!

Family Gatherings with an Eating Disorder

When families gather, buttons get pushed. Consequently, the Family Program at Sanford CTED is offered to our clients’ loved ones at no charge. Family Program facilitator, Justyne Ortquist says, “An individual is changing while doing the work here, but they return to the context they came from. Often, the family will inadvertently reinforce old patterns if they aren’t aware and learning how to support their loved one. So, involving the family helps them create change as the person in treatment changes. This makes for a cohesive transition back to home life.”


Dr. Flores’s Tips for Navigating Family Gatherings with Style

You are Not Alone

Wherever you are in your recovery or your life, all mental, physical, spiritual, financial, and other aspects come to the surface during the holiday season. Remind yourself (especially before an event) that everybody else is going through it too. Don’t minimize your challenges; just know you are not alone in them.


Tradition and SAD

The holiday season is centered around family tradition, and food is a big part. There is an inherent problem for those who struggle with feeding themselves and eating during the holidays. People may also be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This means you are already dealing with a mental and emotional challenge that is not conducive to having a wonderful time. Think about your coping strategies and make a plan. Remind yourself things may go differently than planned.



Holidays mean family. Individuals with eating disorders may have strained relationships with family members or family members who are steeped in diet culture or are toxic to their recovery. Partygoers may not be supportive of recovery. If so, there is an option to bow out for a period of time or altogether. Families can also be a great asset to recovery. The best thing anyone can do for the entire family system is be honest and straightforward.


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Education is vital to family recovery. As a family, develop and understand mental illness and what your loved one is going through. Also, let them be exactly where they are without expectation or judgment. Connect with them where they are. Ask, “How can I support you?” Or if that isn’t comfortable, say, “I want to be supportive of you. I am here for you.” If you do not understand what they are going through, your ability to help them is severely limited.



As a parent, one may have to be vigilant. I call this a “loving mistrust” for the eating disorder. It is because I love you that I am double-checking. Support does not always feel 100% good.


Social Media

There is a lot of pressure and feelings during the holiday season. You see these images of perfect families – all smiles, a dusting of snow. We have to remind ourselves, one, that it is not real life, and two, we can have beautiful moments during the holidays! This is an opportunity to create new feelings and express and experience those feelings. Say to yourself, “I can enjoy this,” and run towards those experiences.


Aftercare and 911 Relapse Prevention

We are lucky that at Sanford CTED, we are having conversations about aftercare on day one. This ensures that our clients are supported every step of their journey. We have a full continuum of care at Sanford, which means we recognize this can be a relapsing disease for people. Recovery is not linear. A great thing to add to the conversation as a family member or support is, “Do you have a relapse prevention plan? Are you comfortable sharing it with me?”


Support System

Talk to your care team about how to approach the things that concern you. Don’t be an island. Talk to your therapist, dietitian, or medical provider because they know the unique you best. Be honest with them and be active and open-minded. Don’t lose sight of all the wonderful things happening because of the stressful times!


Fill your plate to the brim, eat till you are stuffed, and do not starve yourself the next day.


I always encourage clients to make food traditions a part of their recovery. Eating culturally and traditionally is a part of our DNA. I always go back to the fact there are different kinds of hunger. There is physical, cellular, taste (cake on a birthday is celebration hunger), and emotional hunger. We recognize taste and emotional hunger during the holidays. Awaking and honoring hunger other than physical during the holidays is good for recovery.


Fill your plate to the brim, eat till you are stuffed, and do not starve yourself the next day. This is okay. Whatever cultural traditions you have, with or without food, there is space for you to engage with them in your recovery, even if it feels scary or challenging. Because a person who is in recovery from an eating disorder wants to be a full and active participant in their multifaceted life. They deserve that – especially when everything is dressed up for the holidays, sparkling and shiny.


Click the link below for the 36-minute episode. Or find us wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

eating disorders and family gatherings with Dr. Anna Flores podcast graphic

In the podcast, we talk about the following:

  • The definition of an eating disorder and eating disorder recovery
  • The concept of being “recovered”
  • The impact of social media on body awareness
  • Holiday food traditions
  • The different types of hunger
  • How to navigate a party or gathering
  • Tips on how to manage a triggering situation
  • Tips for supporting a loved one in recovery


Learn More About Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders Program

Our team at Sanford Behavioral Health understands the challenges and struggles of living with an eating disorder. We offer personalized and comprehensive eating disorder treatment programs to help our patients recover and live fulfilling lives in recovery. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 844-448-7700 to find a suitable eating disorder treatment program for you or a loved one.


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit