Thanksgiving is ahead of us! I used to dread everything about Thanksgiving: the comments about my body and my eating disordered behaviors at the dinner table, and of course… the food. Step one: breathe. Take a second to relax and remind yourself that you deserve to enjoy this holiday just like everyone else around you is. Step two: breathe again, and remind yourself that holiday memories are ones that you can never get back if you don’t allow yourself to have them in the first place. Step three: read some suggestions I have when it comes to managing Thanksgiving while you’re in recovery.
Use the buddy system
By “buddy system,” I mean that identifying a support person can be extremely helpful before, during, and after your Thanksgiving plans. Their job is to distract you when you’re feeling food-focused, or to shift the conversation into something more positive when your 60-year-old aunt continues to talk about “holiday weight gain.” Instead of telling your aunt to simply “shut up,” your support person can help change the topic of conversation into one that does not trigger your eating disorder. That being said, I would encourage you to talk with your support person before Thanksgiving. They’re not mind readers, and they may very likely not know what to do that will be helpful unless you educate them first.
Prepare yourself with answers
We all know the types of questions and comments that are guaranteed to arise during Thanksgiving. To name a few: “is that all you’re eating? I’m assuming you don’t want the dessert. Wow, look at how much you’re eating! One bite of the pie won’t hurt you.” Even with the best intentions behind some of these statements, they can feel extremely hurtful and triggering. The plus side is that we know they’re coming, so we can be better equipped in the way that we respond. I’ve found that the best way I’ve responded was by simply stating, “let’s spend today without talking about food or how I look.” When we hear our own voice defending ourselves and also educating (or reeducating) our family members, we’re simultaneously silencing the eating disorder’s voice.
Take a break if you need it
If you’re anything like how I was throughout my recovery, then you have just as hard of a time asking for what you truly need in the moment. I can remember countless Thanksgivings where I felt tears forming, heart pounding, and my thoughts racing because of the anxiety I was feeling while appetizers were being served. I couldn’t seem to respond to “small talk,” and I most certainly needed a break from all of the relatives that were packed into one tiny space (let’s recall that I previously preferred isolation at all times). Ask for what you need. Most often this could just be a small break in a quiet room where you can finally get a chance to breathe and gather your thoughts. You are not weak if you take a step away from the chaos that just erupted in your aunt’s kitchen. You are strong for (1) identifying what you needed in that moment and (2) allowing yourself to listen to your needs. When we allow ourselves to be assertive, we’re also taking a huge step forward in recovery.
You can still follow your meal plan!
I think the biggest thing we forget when it comes to holidays is that we can STILL follow our meal plan! Holidays are of course known for being big on the food. And for good reason! The food is delicious, abundant, and there is something nostalgic about sitting with family at the table while devouring plates of good food. That being said, for those of us who are in recovery or have recovered, the holidays can be extremely anxiety-provoking simply because of all of this good food. Don’t stress yourself out! Just because your little cousin is on his third plate of stuffing does not mean you also have to be. While holidays present a great time to challenge yourself to fear foods, they also are a great time to follow your meal plan without measuring or thinking too much about food choices. Thanksgiving dinner has a protein source, countless carb sources to choose from, veggies, and fat sources. Your meal plan is sitting right in front of you! Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone, away from your own cooking techniques, and enjoy having some flexibility and balance for your meal.
Think about what you want Thanksgiving to mean to you
For me, I always wanted to join in with my relatives and have the glass of wine they were all enjoying, and eat the slice of pie that I was truly craving. I wanted to be able to laugh without it being forced, and hold a conversation without having a separate one in my mind that was eating-disorder focused. Before you even begin your Thanksgiving celebrations, think about what you want the holiday to feel like for you. Think about the memories you want to gain, or the goals you’d like to accomplish in recovery. When we can define exactly what it is that we WANT out of our day, then we are better able to take the steps and use the coping skills we have to achieve it.