8 Tips for Celebrating Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder

Thanksgiving is often a time of gratitude and loved ones getting together, but for someone with an eating disorder, the holiday’s focus on food can be anxiety-provoking and overwhelming! Leading up to the festivities, talk with your treatment team or personal supports about how to navigate the day emotionally and physically. If you do not already have professionals to help you, a licensed counselor and a registered dietitian are a good place to start as we head into the holiday season. Either way, here are some helpful tips for enjoying your Thanksgiving in a healthy way:

1. Stick to your meal plan designed by a registered dietitian.

Try to follow your plan as well as you can, but also be flexible.  The foods served may not fall neatly into the categories or exchanges on your plan, so adapt your plate to what is available. It is also important to not diet or fast before the meal in preparation, as this will affect your mood and increase the likelihood of overeating or binging. If you do not have a meal plan, focus on balance and eating an adequate amount to fulfill your hunger.

2. Plan ahead for support.

Identify a trusted friend or family member who can comfort you or advocate for you if you feel anxious or triggered and talk to them about how they can help. Your cousin can steer the conversation away from uncomfortable topics for you, or your sister can chat with you in another room. Make a plan for how you can let them know that you need support and what that support will look like.

3. Plan coping skills to use and be specific.

If you need distraction or coping strategies, plan ahead exactly what you can do when stress arises. This can includes activities like playing with your nephews and nieces, cuddling with the family dog or cat, deep breathing, or holding a comfort item. The more specific you can be about your plan, the more likely you will be able to use one or more of your strategies when your stress level is high.

4. Enjoy non-food activities before and after the meal.

Focus on all of the other aspects of a holiday get together , like seeing relatives you have not seen in a while or enjoying a day off of work. Ask your uncle how his new job is going or enjoy playing a board game with your loved ones. Find what you are thankful for in your life and take the time to enjoy the little things.

5. Enjoy the food!

Often the focus of food for someone in recovery from an eating disorder may be on the amount and the nutritional value, but don’t forget- food is fuel AND food is fun! Is there a special dish you only get at Thanksgiving? Make sure to be mindful while eating so you can savor the experience.

If you are not the one dealing with an eating disorder, but your loved one is, there are some tips for you too!

6. Do not comment on appearance or weight.

Comments or discussion of someone’s appearance should be avoided. Do not remark that someone has lost or gained weight, as this can be upsetting to someone with eating issues. This includes noting that they “look healthy,” which can be triggering. Talk about their lives, not their looks.

7. Do not comment on portion sizes or nutrition.

Unless they have asked you to do so or if it is part of a set treatment plan, do not point out portion sizes or the nutritional value of the food on your loved one’s plate or your own. Do not label foods as “good” or “bad,” and model healthy eating yourself, but take the focus off of food. Also avoid discussing exercise, especially comments about “needing to work it off.” Diets and exercise should not be considered a punishment for eating.

8. Ask how you can help and show you care.

If you are not sure how you can be supportive or encouraging, just ask. What works for one person may not work for someone else, so inquire about what they would find helpful. If you do not feel comfortable asking, then just be there and show an interest in them and their life. Sometimes, a distraction from food and eating disorder related topics can be just what is needed.

Above all, enjoy yourself and the people around you. Celebrate Thanksgiving by remembering what you are thankful for and focusing on those blessings.

Written by: Elizabeth Erwin, B.A., Intake Specialist