The Renfrew Center, which offers treatment programs for women with eating disorders, has some tips for families welcoming college students home for the holidays.

Sure there's all that laughter and fun, but Laurel Greberman says winter break can also bring an excess of food and family that can ignite emotional flare-ups.

Greberman, who leads operations at Renfrew's outpatient center in Radnor, Pa., says good-intentioned parents can sometimes misstep.

"In terms of just simply saying, 'All you have to do is eat.' instead of really asking them how they are feeling in the moment and what may be blocking them from eating," Greberman said. "Also they may say, 'Oh, you don't want to have that, you should really have the vegetables but without the dip.'"

Experts urge young adults who've battled anorexia or bulimia to find a support person to call on when they return home, but parents shouldn't assume that they are the chosen one.

Away from the now-routine habits of school life, home life can seem strange. Mapping out a strategy can help young people navigate emotional landmines -- or the vast array of food at the family buffet.

"To maybe go to another room, to try to focus on socializing more, as opposed to viewing the whole buffet as your focus for that particular event," Greberman said.

Old habits of restricting or purging can resurface over the holidays as a temporary coping mechanism and give college students an illusion of control, she said.