A Twitter survey by the Food Network in 2013 said 71 percent of people believed food was the best part of Thanksgiving. And, for a lot of people, that isn’t exactly wrong: most people love being with friends, family, and plates upon plates of steaming hot food. But this is the definition of torture for the 10-15 percent of all Americans with an eating disorder, according to Mirasol, and that is the statistic for people not currently in recovery or fully recovered. People with bulimia, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or Eating Disorder Not Specified (EDNOS) all struggle with this holiday where eating is all but required. Frankly, it’s terrifying, and it’s hard to have fun when your brain is encouraging you to engage in unhealthy behaviours around eating, distant relatives may comment on your appearance, and others may comment on your eating habits. It’s hard.
But, there is so much help out there, for all of us. This is my thrown-together guide to help out anyone who needs to read this:
Step 1: Take a Deep Breath
Most likely, this isn’t going to be easy. And that’s okay. If you need to, step back, hide in another room, and take a breather. Just relax, close your eyes, and let yourself be with yourself, even for a moment.
Step 2: Communicate
Thanksgiving is all about talking to people. Sometimes this means taking care of yourself and letting your family members and close friends you will be spending this holiday with know that you may be struggling and that you’d prefer not to mention your eating habits. This can be as simple as saying “Hey, Thanksgiving is for letting loose, right, Grandma?” or anything of the sort. Try to shut it down before somebody goes too far.
You can also develop a codeword with someone very close to you beforehand, so you can communicate privately with them and get out of the situation quickly. A good word or phrase is something you wouldn’t normally say, but wouldn’t shock everyone around you. My friend’s personal choice is “bumblebees.” Attempt to sneak it into a conversation with someone who knows what it means, or you can just simply murmur it to them and quickly throw together a way to cover it up while getting out of the situation.
Step 3: Set Up a Plan
Be this a plan put together three minutes before the big meal or set up days in advance, put together a strategy. If you can, choose where to sit to avoid that judgy family member, avoid the kitchen if it scares you, and decide beforehand if you are ready to tackle a fear food (a food that causes extreme anxiety to eat, or sometimes even be around) or if you’re going to play it safe this holiday season. It’s entirely up to you how elaborate or simple your plan is, but ensure you have one so you don’t panic in the middle of dinner.
This plan can also extend to how you’ll eat. Even people without eating disorders struggle during this meal, but there’s probably one mindful eater who you can match your eating patterns to, if that’ll help you. Also, if you can, briefly scan the options beforehand and see if there are any safe foods (foods that don’t cause anxiety to eat, a.k.a. the opposite of fear foods) you can eat.
This is also where you get help from people who want to help you. For people helping those recovering from an eating disorder, ask what you can do to help, and listen to what they say. Let them vent, or talk, or just sit quietly. Depending on the person, ensure they aren’t a danger to themselves. Just listening can go a long way. If you can, discuss beforehand what conversation topics they’d rather avoid, then help them steer clear with topic changes, leaving the conversation, or anything you can do to help.
Step 4: After Thanksgiving
For some people, it’s not the meal itself that’s hard, it’s afterwards. Sometimes, facing the aftermath is scarier than facing the meal. But, remember, one big meal won’t actually make you gain weight. You’ll probably feel bloated, but don’t down five glasses of water in an attempt to get things moving (that only makes it worse). Try to distract yourself with Netflix (if you haven’t watched Stranger Things or Quantico, there you go), talk to someone, or just enjoy activities you like to do. If you feel like you’re up to it the next day, maybe meet up with a friend and go to the park or just spend time with them. There is absolutely no reason to punish yourself for this meal, and you deserve to take extra great care of yourself in the next few days. Take a bubble bath. Take a nap. Let yourself relax and enjoy these times with your family and close friends.
Step 5: Realize Things are Going to be Okay
Alright. This is probably one of the scariest meals of the year. But one meal will not change your weight. Thanksgiving isn’t so much about food, but about being with family and celebrating what you’re thankful for. Think about that during the meal. Focus on the conversation, your loved ones, and how, at the end of the day, these are the people that love and care about you. Text your friends if you need to, or hide away for a few minutes and scroll through positive Tumblr accounts. I, personally, like @archerthecorgi, @calmsuggestion, @marniethedog, @unflatteringcatselfies, and @jacksonstubbington.
Things are going to be okay, I promise you. This can be a time to work through some goals and break down some rules brought to you via your eating disorder, or just something to weather through and get back on course right after. But I promise you, from one person struggling through an eating disorder and recovery to another, that you’ll get through this and move on to brighter days.
All-in-all, Thanksgiving can be quite the battle. But it can also be a time to celebrate the year and all the things you’re appreciative of. At the end of the day, there may be a lot of food, but there are always more things to be grateful for. This holiday season, don’t forget that. I wish y’all the best.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org or call their toll-free number at 1-800-931-2237. If you’re in a crisis, text “NEDA” to 741741.