For many, the holiday of Thanksgiving creates excitement as they envision the decadent meal and desserts and being around loved ones they may not see often. However, if you are living with an eating disorder, Thanksgiving – a holiday centered on food and family – may elicit distress as you struggle with your relationship with food and body image, and acknowledge how family dynamics may play into your disorder. The Thanksgiving experience can trigger eating disorder thoughts and behaviors while bringing up feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, sadness, or even grief if you won’t be celebrating for whatever reason. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, here are a few ways you might be able to ease your Thanksgiving distress, and possibly find some enjoyment in the experience:
Treat Thanksgiving like a regular day – By viewing Thanksgiving as a “special” day, individuals might feel pressured to celebrate in a particular way or have certain expectations they feel they need to fulfill. For instance, there is a common belief that celebrating Thanksgiving means overeating and indulging to the point of being overly full. Depending on the type of eating disorder one exhibits, this may create insecurity about food and potential body changes, and fears of engaging in eating disorder behaviors (i.e. restricting, binging, purging). For individuals who do not celebrate, they may feel grief, loss, or disappointment for not engaging in this “special” day. Thus, if you are trying to recover, try viewing the holiday as just another day without the added expectations of food or celebrating. You can even continue your regular daily activities, if possible. This may remove the emotional charge associated with the day and relieve some pressure and fears about your eating disorder.
Create a safety plan – Engaging in a holiday focused around food and interacting with loved ones can trigger various distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Having a safety or self-care plan can prepare you should you feel overwhelmed. For instance, you might ask someone you trust whether you can call/text to check in with them before, during, and after the meal/gathering. You might even identify a “safe” person that will be present with you at your event. You could even plan to leave early should you feel very triggered. You might also benefit from having something enjoyable planned before and/or after the actual Thanksgiving get-together. If you don’t have Thanksgiving plans, you can plan some activities that will be nurturing and fulfilling (watching a movie, journaling, reading, volunteering, etc.).
Find something to hold onto – If you still want to celebrate Thanksgiving but are having fears, try finding one aspect of the holiday (unrelated to your eating disorder) to which you are looking forward. Maybe you are excited to travel back to your hometown and see old friends. Maybe your family likes to watch a particular movie every Thanksgiving. Or maybe you have a new pair of shoes you are eager to wear.
Practice gratitude – Although the name of this holiday should speak for itself, sometimes we may get so caught up in the Thanksgiving meal or our social interactions that we forget the essence of this day – acknowledging what we are grateful for. Practicing gratitude can be a very healing component in eating disorder recovery, and so incorporating gratitude into this day is even more fitting if you are struggling. Thus, while you allow yourself to have whatever feelings Thanksgiving may bring up for you, try to make a note of at least one thing that you are grateful for in that moment – it can be as simple as feeling the wind in your hair or smelling your favorite cologne.
Remember that you have a choice – While you may feel obligated to celebrate Thanksgiving with certain people or in a particular way, remember that you have a say in whether or not you want to engage in this holiday or interact with certain people. Depending on where you are in your eating disorder recovery and your particular circumstances, you may find that attending a Thanksgiving event or being part of a certain social environment may feel unsafe and overwhelming, rather than exciting. You may realize that certain individuals can negatively impact your recovery. It is okay to take care of yourself and spend the holiday in a way that makes you feel safe and is conducive to your recovery.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral student and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She offers individual and group psychotherapy to adults and adolescents with disordered eating and body dissatisfaction. Bahar recognizes how a preoccupation with food and body image may impair the quality of one’s life, and combines clinical and mentorship experience to help clients develop a more peaceful relationship with food and body image. Call Bahar today to book your first consultation.