Eating disorder recovery is a complex process with both mental and physical components. Facing each day as you work to break free from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or one of the many combinations of symptoms that make up borderline disorders is a challenge. And when a holiday like Thanksgiving rolls around, with its focus so firmly on food, it can be easy to succumb to fear.
Don’t let the thought of being faced by a table full of food and an expectant family overwhelm you. Thanksgiving and other food-heavy holidays don’t have to undermine your recovery efforts. There are steps you can take to prepare yourself and stay on track through the holiday meal.
Thanksgiving comes on a definite day and often involves a lot of preparation. This is helpful in and of itself when it comes to arming yourself against potential pitfalls. As your family begins to plan Thanksgiving dinner, familiarize yourself with the foods that will be served. This is not meant to be an opportunity to scrutinize every dish for offending ingredients or calorie counts. Rather, take the time to prepare yourself for what will be on the table come Thanksgiving Day so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Planning can also help you to identify trigger foods. Both anorexics and bulimics have foods that touch off feelings of fear. Some may be dishes that characteristically lead to a binge; others may have high amounts of fat, sugar, or other ingredients that were once on a mental list of “bad” foods. Whatever the case, you know yourself best when it comes to trigger foods. If you know you’ll be facing them on Thanksgiving, consider the best way to deal with it and put a plan in place before the holiday.
Focus on Family
Thanksgiving is fortunately about more than food. For many families, it’s a good excuse to get together, spend time with each other, and see far-off relatives for the first time since the previous year. Perhaps your family has a traditional parade or movie that they watch or games that they play. If so, try to put your focus on these things rather than the meal. Finding something enjoyable to participate in can ease the stress of the food-centric nature of the day and give you something to think about other than how to make it through dinner.
Sometimes all the factors of Thanksgiving put together are too much. The amount and types of foods, the stress of a big holiday, and having to deal with family members are all difficult when simultaneously trying to recover from a serious disorder. If, after weighing all the options, you find that you simply can’t deal with it this year, it’s okay to back out. You don’t have to put your recovery at risk just to please other people. If friends or family ask why you’re not participating, don’t hesitate to explain. However, if you do have to go this route, don’t put yourself in a situation where food and stress will still be a problem. Get out of the house if need be, or treat yourself to a favorite activity. The idea is a low-stress day that aids in your recovery.
As you continue on the road to eating disorder recovery, you will face difficult days like Thanksgiving. Getting through these days is part of the recovery process. By preparing yourself and knowing your limits, food-centric holidays can become stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks on the road to overall health.