If you struggle with an eating disorder, Thanksgiving can be one of the most challenging holidays of the year. The combination of complex family dynamics, extensive buffets, and towering plates can easily provoke anxiety and fear.
However, this challenge does not mean automatic defeat. You can actually think of it as an opportunity.
An opportunity to challenge your eating disorder voice and behaviors. An opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and healthily cope with the stress and triggers.
These tips will help you navigate the tension that can ultimately lead to a binge over Thanksgiving.
1. Plan ahead.
Think of all the potential obstacles that could come up throughout the day and weekend and make a plan on ways to handle them. For example, if your family makes comments about your eating habits or weight, think of a way to politely dismiss their statements and redirect the conversation.
2. Make a list of what you are grateful for.
Remember not to lose sight of the real meaning of Thanksgiving, which is giving thanks. Write down all the things you’re grateful for today and every day. Try to spend at least 10 minutes letting anything that comes to your mind make its way onto the paper. If you feel stuck, think broad. There are many things we take for granted on a daily basis such as our five senses, running water, and electricity.
An attitude of gratitude can be an amazing way to tap into a positive emotional state.
3. Prepare an affirmation or mantra for the day.
Choose an affirmation you can say often throughout the day. If you anticipate a certain emotion to be strong, tailor your affirmation directly to it. Some examples: “when my anxiety is strong I focus on my breath”, “I am a great conversationalist, I listen to others and they listen to me”, “I’m thankful for this day and where I am in recovery, I am proud of myself.”
4. Prepare conversation starters.
If you have social anxiety come prepared with questions that you can ask your family and friends. Ask about their work, school, children, significant others, etc.
The more you can engage in conversation the less you will reach for food to calm yourself.
5. Don’t restrict before the meal.
Its common practice to restrict before the Thanksgiving meal so you can gorge later. I encourage you to counter this practice and eat breakfast and have a morning snack. You are more likely to overeat if you arrive to the meal starving.
6. Connect with your breath.
If the urge to binge comes on strong take deep breaths. Focus on the whole breathing experience from the inhalation to the exhalation. Notice how the breath moves through your body. Don’t underestimate the power of breathing to get through difficult moments.
7. Practice mindfulness throughout your meal.
This starts from the moment you serve yourself to the moment your plate is removed. Mindfulness is the act of staying in the present moment and observing what is going on around and within you. Your 5 senses are a great place to start. Silently consider the colors of the food on your plate. Describe their textures…how do the the mashed potatoes feel in your mouth? Is the turkey dry or moist? Describe the smell…does one dish overpower the others? Focus on the taste…the saltiness of the gravy, the sweetness of the yams. During the meal put your fork down between bites so you can calmly observe all your senses at work and check-in with your hunger level. When you are full it is a good time to stop eating. There will most likely be leftovers you can enjoy later when you are hungry again.
8. Save room for dessert.
By eating dessert, you are making a statement to yourself that you will not deprive yourself.
It is deprivation that ultimately leads to a binge backlash.
Pile less on your plate during the main course so you can comfortably enjoy a slice of pie later. Dessert is another great opportunity to practice mindfulness!