Although the holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, as we approach Thanksgiving, many people feel overwhelmed and anxious. The stress of reconnecting with relatives and feeling trapped in old dysfunctional family patterns, together with the abundance of food, make this holiday especially difficult for people prone to binge eating or those with eating disorders or disordered eating, like food addiction.
Having a clear plan for how to effectively cope with the stressors and triggers associated with Thanksgiving is the key to getting through this holiday happily. Though it is tempting to avoid thinking about it ahead of time, without a well-thought-out plan it will be impossible to disrupt a binge cycle while you are in the middle of it.
Here are few tips that can help prevent you from engaging in old patterns of binge eating on this holiday,
Create a Meal Plan the Night Before
For many people the solution to balancing their meal on the day of Thanksgiving is not to eat at all, apart from the main meal; however, restricting yourself all day will make you ravenously hungry, which leads to losing control over food. To set yourself up for success, plan to eat three meals and two snacks during the day. Write down what you will eat the night before and make a commitment to follow through with your plan regardless of circumstances.
Examine Your Triggers
Many people’s urges to binge eat are driven by their emotional state, not necessarily by their physiological need for food. Both negative and positive emotions can be triggers for binge eating; however, some of the more common internal triggers for my patients who are struggling with eating disorders are sadness, shame, anxiety, and frustration.
Returning to the places where you engaged in certain old behaviors may also trigger them. One of my patients told me that the first night she was back home after several years, she woke up in the middle of the night and went directly to the fridge for a pint of ice cream. Throughout her teenage years, binging and purging had been the primary way that she coped with her overwhelming issues with self-worth. She had not returned to this behavior since she left home for college, but something about being back in the place where she used to engage in midnight binges triggered it again.
If you are not sure about what your internal and external triggers are, reflect on the last three times that you engaged in binging behaviors. Your answers to the questions below might help you identify your triggers:
- Where were you the last time you engaged in binging behavior?
- What happened prior to your binging episodes?
- What thoughts were passing through your mind?
- What were you feeling when you first noticed your urge to binge?
Take Stock of Your Alternative Coping Mechanisms
Identifying your triggers will help you plan alternative coping strategies ahead of time. It is important to be in tune with your internal processes, recognize the early signs of certain emotions, and attend to them before they get out of control.
For example, if anxiety is a trigger for your binge eating, create a list of things you could do when you start feeling anxious during the Thanksgiving gathering. Some examples of these alternative coping activities would be:
- Practice few cycles of diaphragmatic breathing
- Take your dog for a walk or go walking alone
- Have a list of supportive individuals you can call
- Write positive affirmations in your phone ahead of time and read them when you feel anxious
Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
It is important to keep in mind that thinking in extreme black and white is a recipe for failure. Many people with eating disorders perceive themselves as bad if they don’t perfectly follow their meal plan. When something happens outside the plan, they get discouraged and give up prematurely; however, as with any other skill, you need to practice for a while to get good at it.
Dr. Moali is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Oasis 2 Care. She is an eating disorder specialist in Torrance who is passionate about providing effective treatment and meaningful resources to individuals who are struggling with binge eating disorder, anorexia, and bulimia. Dr. Moali completed an APA-approved postdoctoral residency in an adolescent and adult eating disorders program. Dr. Moali currently lives with her family in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.