6 Tips For a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner. Colorful illustration of person in yellow sweater.

For many people Thanksgiving means reconnecting with family, enjoying a traditional dinner, and celebrating the start of the holiday season. When struggling with an eating disorder, Thanksgiving dinner can be a complete nightmare.

When I was in the trenches of my eating disorder the holiday season meant a constant feeling of distress and chaos.

Instead of thinking about how to stuff a Turkey or how many pumpkins needed to go in the pie, all I could think about was when and how much I would have to eat. I counted down the days till new years day in silence.

Do you feel overwhelmed before the holidays even started? Are you worried about how much food you eat, whether you feel the urge to binge, or how guilty you’ll feel after eating dessert?

Read these tips for coping with Thanksgiving dinner so you can actually enjoy this holiday (and the rest of the season).

1. Make a plan and get support

Tell your family you’re worried and ask them to support you to get through the Thanksgiving’s dinner courses. Having friends and family to call for support is very helpful, so always make sure to discuss your fears with someone.

In addition, you can always discuss your fears upfront with your dietitian, therapist or anyone else from your treatment team who you trust. They can help you in practicing some situations using role play. Using role play can also assist you in coming up with a backup plan. A backup plan doesn’t need to be complicated. Just practice with potentially stressful situations and how someone in your family can help you cope with them. Sometimes just knowing that somebody is there to back you up when needed already does the trick.

2. Don’t engage in fat talk

The holidays aren’t just a season in which we reconnect with our family. They also ensue the inevitable fat-talks. We’re living in a world where media and society tell us each day to think of our bodies as something that needs to be changed and improved in order to fit a certain beauty standard. We’re surrounded by magazine articles and beauty ads that warn us daily about eating too much or eating food classified as “bad”.

The truth is, there is no such thing as “bad” food.

If I followed up on all of articles I read today, even this morning’s oatmeal breakfast could be classified as “bad”.

For people struggling with their body-image and self-esteem fat-talk is hard to deal with. But when you’re recovering from an eating disorder it can be pure torture. I remember this myself. I couldn’t cope, nor deal with them and they only fueled my distorted thoughts and beliefs (You see, I’m not good/pretty enough). This is something that you might be confronted with at Thanksgiving dinner or any other holiday that’s coming up.

At some point, the talk inevitably turns to calories, weight-loss goals, exercising, and diets. They can make you feel really uncomfortable and easily lead to anxiety and stress. A way to cope with this is to resign from these conversations by taking some time to help in the kitchen, play with your cousin or talk with your favorite aunt. Besides, it’s not rude at all to invite them politely to change the subject.

You can say it makes you feel really uncomfortable and that it only triggers your eating disordered voice. Make sure to discuss this upfront with your family and treatment team. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee conversation will not turn toward diet and fat talks

3. Don’t skip or compensate meals

It’s very important to maintain a regular meal plan which your doctor or dietitian created for you. I know it’s tempting for a lot of people in recovery to skip meals in the days before Thanksgiving, don’t eat breakfast on Thanksgiving day or compensate meals the days that follow. I did this all in the past and it’s the worst and most unhealthy thing to do! It’s devastating for both your recovery and metabolism.

No matter what eating disorder you are recovering from, it’s key to eat regular meals.

So don’t let any triggering or stressful situations be an excuse to fall back into eating disorder behaviors so you have “room” for Thanksgiving dinner.

Besides, when you are trying to manage urges to binge, skipping meals only increases the risk to binge. Sticking to your meal plan will help you in making conscious food choices.

4. Be kind to yourself

Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to feel the urge to binge or purge, or think that you need to compensate or skip certain things, as long as you don’t follow up on those thoughts or feelings! Don’t punish yourself for having these thoughts. They are there but they will disappear eventually. Something you can do is write down positive affirmations that you can read in between courses. You can also bring your journal or use your Rise Up + Recover app to take a moment to write down all the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. Writing them out helps to get them out of your head and don’t fall down in destructive behaviors.

5. Focus on gratitude

Remind yourself that in the end, the holidays are about reconnecting, spending time with family and loved ones and enjoying a nourishing dinner together.

Try to focus on the people around you and building relationships instead of worrying about the food.

I realize this is very difficult and may seem impossible, but practicing small things like gratitude can really help you grow. Your self-esteem and self-worth aren’t built on your looks or size. Remind yourself of all the good things in your life and be grateful for the current moment.

6. Breathe

Yes, breathe. Whenever you feel anxious or stressed, take a moment to breathe slowly. If you feel uncomfortable doing that while sitting at the dinner table, just go to the bathroom or living room and take a moment to solely breathe. It can really help to connect with your inner self and calm your mind. Feel the urge to binge and fear you can’t control it? Make sure to eat mindfully and enjoy every bite!

Now remember what Thanksgiving and the other holidays are all about: It’s not about the food. It’s about being grateful for all the small things that exist in your life and for being able to spend time with your loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Last Updated: November 23, 2022)

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