Thanksgiving and Eating Disorders: A Mini Survival Guide
On the heels of my recent blog about fat talk and its negative ramifications, I am broaching the subject of food, anxiety, and eating disorders once again. It’s almost Thanksgiving, after all, a holiday which not only acts as a huge trigger for many suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder, but is often used as fodder for fat jokes and the subsequent fat talk. As if sitting down to dine with your already dysfunctional family isn’t enough.
As we set our gaze upon Thanksgiving and give thanks for all that we have, those suffering from an eating disorder may be having an entirely different experience. For one thing, the entire day is purportedly built upon the foundation of food; one is expected to eat…a lot. With an eating disorder, those expectations can bring about a legitimate sense of fear, shame and anxiety. For example, an anorexic may be overly concerned with the appearance that he or she is not only eating, but enjoying a “normal” amount of food, while someone suffering from bulimia or binge-eating disorder may struggle with trying to manage their urges to binge and/or purge. For both, there are triggers everywhere, from the wide array of food being offered to someone’s not-so-subtle commentary about your, or even their, current weight, shape, size, et cetera.
Eating disorders and disordered eating are complex conditions, emerging from a combination of behavioral, biological, psychological, emotional, interpersonal and social factors. For many, food becomes the one thing that is controllable, giving someone who feels inherent powerlessness some perceived power. My own experience is just that: I grew up in an out-of-control, dysfunctional environment, where food was used as a vehicle for mixed messages; controlling its intake became paramount to my own survival. Or at least I thought it did. What it really ended up doing was leaving an indelible mark of low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. I still occasionally encounter negative behaviors from some family members when I see them, but now I view it as an opportunity to stand up in the face of adversity, plant my feet in my recovery, and dine with dignity. See here for NEDA’s “Factors that may Contribute to Eating Disorders.”
Some things to think about for the holidays:
Get support: either via a therapist, a sponsor, or a good friend. Make sure that you have someone you can lean on during this holiday season. You don’t have to manage Thanksgiving alone.
Make a plan: I always make sure I have what I call an “escape” plan for these sorts of things. In other words, make yourself a schedule so you don’t have to wing it.
Don’t skip meals in “preparation” for the holiday: Maintain your regular eating schedule that’s become a part of your recovery. For example, don’t skip breakfast so you can “have room” for the Thanksgiving meal.
Ignore and don’t engage in the fat talk: It’s neither an act of self-care or helpful. If someone is engaging in this age-old, negative behavior: walk away or disengage. Other people’s issues surrounding food are not yours to manage.
Be kind to yourself: If you fall down and slip into old behavior, don’t use it as a springboard to self-destruction. Allow yourself to enjoy the things you like. I find that knowing my triggers allows me to navigate the stormy sea of family and impulse with better judgment. You can do this!
Breathe: Yes, that’s right. Breathe. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and take 10 deep breaths and find your center. This really does help. (This is also the other reason bathrooms exist!)
Lastly, remember what Thanksgiving is really about: It’s not about the food. Not really. It’s about being grateful for those around you and for the blessings in your life. Bask in the glory of your recovery and sobriety, for without those, the least of your worries would be whether or not you can eat a piece of pumpkin pie!