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Celebrating Thanksgiving With an Eating Disorder: How to Cope

Thanksgiving is a holiday focused on both food and family, making it a particularly challenging time for individuals suffering from an eating disorder. It’s also a tricky day to navigate for the loved ones of a patient in treatment. In today’s post, I want to share six tips to help both eating disorder sufferers and their family cope on Thanksgiving.

Three Tips for Eating Disorder Sufferers on Thanksgiving

To start, set an intention for the day. If you make a plan for the day, it’s easier to take back the reins if your eating disorder tries to take control. It may be something like, “I plan to fully be present and participate in conversation and activities with my loved ones.” Write it down and keep it close. If eating disorder behaviors try to creep in, this exercise will allow you to refocus on your priority for the day.

Next, avoid body talk. Even a comment like “My pants won’t fit if I eat another bite!” can send you into a spiral. If conversation moves towards body size, body image, weight loss, or dieting, either politely excuse yourself or steer the subject in a new direction. You can say, “I hear what you’re saying about _____. Today, though, I want to focus on my gratitude for _____.”

Finally, stick to your usual eating schedule. It can be tempting to skip breakfast or even cut back on your calories the day before or after the holiday. These restricting or fasting behaviors often lead to other eating disorder behaviors though. Instead, treat the day like any other day. Do your best to follow your typical meal plan and/or practice your intuitive eating skills.

Three Tips to Help Loved Ones Navigate Eating Disorder Treatment on Thanksgiving

First, acknowledge that it may be a difficult day for your loved one and offer to help. They may want you to make them a plate of food so they don’t have to worry about portion sizes. Or they may want to plan a fun, non-food focused activity for after the meal — like a game of backyard football, a fall craft with the kids, or a short walk around the neighborhood.

Second, make gratitude the focus of the day instead of the meal. You can encourage guests to share something they're grateful for at the start of gathering. Fortunately, gratitude is a natural mood booster and will help everyone finish the day with a full heart and happy smile.

Lastly, anticipate any challenges that might arise. For instance, if your aunt tends to ask intrusive questions, you may want to use place cards to determine a seating chart that puts her at the opposite end of the table. Additionally, it may be easier for your loved one if you don’t offer them leftovers. You can check-in with them beforehand to avoid any awkward conversations in front of the larger group.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.


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