Celebrating Thanksgiving During Eating Disorder Recovery

Thanksgiving. The day of the year when food and eating take center stage. A very challenging holiday for many, especially for those with eating disorders. As we at Columbus Park settled in to write something helpful or encouraging to support people through, we were reminded of how many thoughtful contributors have written about coping during Thanksgiving and through the holidays more generally.    

So rather than reinventing the wheel, we’ve curated some helpful articles on the topic of Thanksgiving and eating disorder recovery. 

We’ll start with an article titled “Holiday Eating Got You Anxious? Seven tips on how to navigate conversations about food at Thanksgiving” from the New York Times. This article highlights the importance of setting boundaries with others ahead of a large gathering or meal. It also talks about identifying people who put your recovery at risk, whether it’s because they have a tendency to make insensitive or harmful comments or because they just generally rub you the wrong way and trigger negative feelings. By setting a limit to your exposure to these people – or by avoiding them altogether — you might be able to reduce some of the stress, pressure and potential triggers associated with holiday events.  

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) shared an article titled “7 Tips for Getting Through Thanksgiving in Eating Disorder Recovery.” This article emphasizes how important it is to surround yourself with people that you can count on. A trusted companion can be prepared to support you if you get entangled in a tedious interaction with another family member or friend or if you’re struggling during the meal. NEDA also encourages us to make a Thanksgiving meal plan ahead of time. Thinking through the meal and preparing your approach can reduce the stress at mealtime and free you up to focus on other things like being present and engaged with non-food related, positive aspects of the event.  

Another excellent resource in the eating disorder space is a multimedia social platform called Recovery Warriors. In their article “6 Tips For A Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner,” they highlight common food and weight-related commentary that can come up at meal time and social events. You may recognize the discomfort that can arise from table discussions about calories, weight, judgements about food quality (“good” vs “bad”), etc.  

These comments aren’t helpful for those in recovery (or anyone, for that matter), and it could benefit you to ask for a change of subject…or you can just gently excuse yourself.  

A subsequent article from Recovery Warriors titled “Yes, You Can Enjoy Thanksgiving When You Have An Eating Disorder” references the importance of taking breaks throughout Thanksgiving day, slowing down, being mindful, and remembering to breathe. Interestingly, they note that many people fall into childhood patterns when they’re around their families during the holidays. It’s not at all uncommon to become a little regressed when back with your family of origin, and as a result, you may engage in behaviors that no longer serve you now that you’re an adult. It can be helpful to keep this in mind.

Recovery Warriors offers yet another helpful article called “Thanksgiving And Eating Disorder Recovery: How To Survive Family Comments.” The piece encourages responding to rude comments about weight or eating behaviors with a simple, “That’s not something I want to discuss with you.” You can also ask to change the topic of the conversation to something else or gently clarify that you “can – and will – make [your] own decisions and that [you’re] not looking for guidance or feedback, thank you.”

Psych Central’s article “Eating Disorders: Tips for Navigating Thanksgiving” offers a helpful tip: They advise scheduling an absorbing or distracting activity for right after the Thanksgiving meal. Distracting activity ideas include watching a movie, playing cards, visiting with friends or family…The goal is to take your mind off the meal so you don’t get pulled into negative thoughts/feelings. Instead, you can just move on to something pleasant. 

To wind up our list of resources, we guide you to The Emily Program’s “To Those Fearing the Thanksgiving Table….” This piece reminds us that it’s alright to not to be excited about Thanksgiving. The holiday is very hard for many people, particularly for those both in the throes of and in recovery from eating disorders. If “survive” is the only item on your to-do list that day, that’s okay.  

While Thanksgiving is just one day of the year, it kicks off a string of holidays that center around food and family. 

If you’re looking for additional support throughout the winter months, reach out to the team at Columbus Park