Thanksgiving can be one of the most challenging holidays for someone struggling with an eating disorder. Although this holiday is supposed to be about being thankful, let’s face it, it becomes about the food. And, to make it even harder, everyone is encouraged to feast and even indulge on the food. The anorexic is exposed to what she/he is most afraid of (food) for an entire day. The bulimic/binge eater is surrounded by trigger foods and must work to control urges to binge or purge all day.
In addition to the burden of mealtime there may also be stress around being with your family. Thanksgiving is a time when families come together and sit around the dinner table again. Thanksgiving dinner often mimics meals you had in your childhood. Maybe mom is over critical, dad is emotionally unavailable, and grandpa is an alcoholic. The dysfunctional family dynamics are all in the room again. This stressful environment coupled with facing a huge feast can be incredibly triggering for the person with an eating disorder. Dysfunctional family dynamics are one of the many reasons people develop eating disorder in the first place. Being around family may actually exacerbate urges to act out with eating disorder behaviors.
Thanksgiving is probably the hardest day of the year for someone with an eating disorder. Have compassion for yourself on this day and let go of the need to be perfect. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude. I personally believe that in many ways having an eating disorder is a blessing in disguise. It is what can push us to grow, have healthier relationships with friends and family, and challenge things in our life that we wish to be different. Remember, your worth as a person is not about your size or the food you eat.
Here are some tips on how to survive Thanksgiving this year:
- Follow your normal meal plan and don’t skip breakfast. It’s not uncommon for people to think they should skip breakfast and/or lunch so that you can “make room” for the Thanksgiving feast. Find out what time Thanksgiving meal is and then build the other two meals around this. Aim to make this day like any other day.
- Don’t watch what other people eat. Comparing what you eat to what others eat sets you up for needing to appear perfect. You are the only person who knows what’s best for your recovery.
- Get support. Identify someone as your support person and utilize them throughout the day. It is your job to tell this person what you need to support your recovery. For example, you may ask them to help change the subject if food or body talk comes up around the dinner table. Or, if you need to take a time-out and discharge strong feelings, ask you support person to accompany you outside to get some fresh air.
- Bring your coping skills. Don’t come to Thanksgiving empty handed. Come equipped with whatever helps you deal with urges to act out in your eating disorder or helps to soothe your emotions. This might mean you bring your journal, art supplies, favorite book, iPod, etc.
- Use your voice. Too often when things are uncomfortable the natural reaction is to shut-down and internalize our feelings. Doing this only gives power to your eating disorder. Speak up around your needs and set boundaries with your family members when necessary.
- Practice mindfulness. If possible, avoid standing, eating and talking. Aim to eat food while sitting down at a table. This increases your ability to eat slowly and mindfully, listening to your hunger and fullness cues.