“Wow, I’m stuffed,” says your uncle after a Thanksgiving meal. “I’m going to pay for this tomorrow.”
Another family member might chime in about needing to hit the gym.
Those of us recovering from an eating disorder might find that kind of talk frustrating. We know about binge eating, and Thanksgiving can be a particularly difficult time for us to deal with. The focus of the holiday is often on food. Some food may be special and only had on the holidays. And family members we don’t see often might feel free to say things that are triggering or uncomfortable.
While it might be tempting to tell off those relatives (and if it seems like the right thing to do, by all means, go for it), it might help to develop a plan to avoid the behaviors that lead to binge eating. Let’s look at a few ways to mitigate binge eating and Thanksgiving stress.
We are often our harshest critics. That all or nothing mindset may have played a role in developing an eating disorder. We may worry about what our family members think of us, especially if our size has changed since starting recovery. We may overeat on Thanksgiving. We may snap at a relative. We may need to go outside and take a few cleansing breaths to get through the meal.
All of that is okay. We don’t have to be perfect or handle everything perfectly. We don’t have to impress our relatives; if they’re judgmental, they’re the ones who need to live with that.
Think of a mantra or saying that you can say to yourself to help you through the day. It might be something as simple as, “I don’t have to be perfect” or “I’m proud of myself for being in recovery” or “I trust my body and my sense of hunger and fullness.” Say it to yourself in the days before Thanksgiving, and write it on a note on your phone or in a text to yourself so you can find it in those stressful moments.
I try to think of how I would treat someone going through the same things, and then I try to extend that sense of compassion to myself.
Before arriving at Thanksgiving dinner, give some thought to boundaries. Boundaries look different for each person. Consider how to respond to different situations. For example, some relatives may feel like it’s okay to comment on your appearance. Think about how you might want to respond. You could tell them that those comments aren’t helpful. Or you could nod, smile, and leave the conversation.
It’s up to you to decide what boundaries you want to set, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It might be best to avoid conversations with some relatives, and that’s okay. You don’t have to confront everybody, or anybody.
If it feels appropriate, you might want to think about responses to things your relatives might say. If a relative tends to be persistent about getting you to eat when you’re full, consider responding with telling them that you’ve already said you’re full, and you’d like your wishes to be respected. Will it make your relative uncomfortable? Maybe. Will they push food on you again? Maybe not.
Again, do what’s right for you.
Try to Enjoy the Food
Sometimes the stress of the holiday makes it hard to relax and enjoy the food on our plates. Consider what foods sound good to you. Take a breath and see what your body is craving. Then eat those foods. We deserve to enjoy the food we eat. We deserve to eat the foods that our body needs. If you want dessert, eat dessert. If you don’t want dessert, that’s okay too.
In the past, we may have restricted before a holiday meal like Thanksgiving. Or we may have engaged in compensatory behaviors before or after the meal. This Thanksgiving, let’s try to stick to our daily routine. Eat all your meals like you would on any other day. Eat snacks too if you’re hungry. Binging is often a result of restriction, so make an effort to eat your usual meals and maintain your regular activity level without engaging in “extra” activities.
It’s Okay to Bail
The Thanksgiving meal might be too much for you. That’s okay. If we need to sit out a holiday to preserve our recovery, that’s a valid choice to make. Maybe consider hosting a “Friendsgiving” instead with people who support your recovery efforts. Or go to your family Thanksgiving, but have an escape plan in place. Use it when you need to, without shame or guilt. You have the right to take care of yourself.
Dealing with binge eating and Thanksgiving isn’t easy. All we can do is our best. We might not be perfect, and that’s okay. Connect with a treatment program if you need to, and take the steps you need to for your recovery and health.