It’s that time of year again: Thanksgiving, the most food-centric holiday on the calendar, is just a few days away. For most people, this means good food and time spent with family. But for those of us with eating disorders, Thanksgiving can be a nightmare.
In the early stages of recovery, every day — every meal — counts. You might plan out each day as best you can to make sure you follow your meal plan and avoid any surprises that might cause stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, planning ahead is a lot harder to do amid the holiday hustle and bustle. The moment Aunt Mildred sweetly asks why you won’t try a piece of her famous pumpkin pie, you know it’s time to to make a decision.
So, yes, Thanksgiving can be massively stressful when you are recovering from an eating disorder, not matter how far along in recovery you are. And no, you can’t plan the day to a T. But you can make some preparations that will help to make sure you keep recovery — and your whole self — first.
Here is some of what I’m doing to prepare myself for my first Thanksgiving in recovery:
A Thanksgiving Survival Guide
1. Plan ahead as best you can: Have breakfast, have lunch, and then, when it’s time for the Thanksgiving feast, have dinner. Don’t feel pressured to make it different from any other meal you eat. Make you plate just like you would make any other dinner. And if you want a second helping of Grandma’s famous sweet potato casserole, then go for it! Your body knows what to do with that food. (And appetizers and desserts? Sound like perfect snacks to me!)
2. Talk with your nutritionist or therapist ahead of time. Discuss any traditions that you know might cause you stress (as well as any relatives who also cause stress). Your treatment team can help you come up with a plan to cope with these stressors.
3. Have a support person ready for action. Notify a friend, family member, therapist, boyfriend or girlfriend ahead of time that you may need extra support that day. Then, if the meal or a family situation starts to feel overwhelming, call or text that person for in-the-moment support.
4. Think about what brings you comfort or encouragement. For example, I have a “recovery board” on Pinterest with motivational quotes and photos. When I start to feel overwhelmed or anxious, I take out my phone and read the quotes. Looking at them gives me a momentary mental break and helps remind me that I’ve gotten through far more difficult experiences than Thanksgiving.
5. Above all else, remember that a Thanksgiving meal is just that — a meal. Nothing more, nothing less. It provides nourishment for your body and brings a special opportunity to gather with family and friends.
Putting the Merry Back in the Holidays
In addition to making a concrete plan, there’s something else you can do: reflect on what you want to get out of the holiday. What do you want the day to really be about for you besides the food?
This is what I’ve been trying to think about this past week. I’ve decided to try something different this Thanksgiving. I’m not going to scold myself for overeating or make a plan to burn off my Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, I am intentionally turning this Thanksgiving into a day to celebrate my recovery. I’m going to consciously enjoy every bit of the meal (including dessert!) and be grateful that I’m starting to establish a healthy relationship with food.
Meanwhile, if someone says something negative about the food — for instance, if they lament how much they ate or talk about how they’re going to “make up for it” tomorrow — I’m going to use their comments as a “mindfulness bell“: Hearing them will remind me to stop and quietly reflect on where I am now versus where I was last Thanksgiving. I’ll use those moments to solemnly appreciate the long journey of recovery that has brought me to this place.
So that’s what I’m doing this holiday. Who wants to join me?
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