No holiday says “food” more than Thanksgiving. The stress associated with the holiday can trigger strong feelings. This is especially true for people affected by eating disorders. With some planning surviving the holidays is possible. These tips will allow the Thanksgiving holiday to be a good one for those with eating disorders, family members and friends.• Focus on more than food, such as the other things that make holidays special. Ask family members to share what the holidays mean to them. Perhaps it means reconnecting with family members that you don’t usually get to see, or sharing in a service activity that feels good. Discuss with family members what you can do to make the entire season special.
• Alter your family’s traditions to reflect the importance of relationships. This may mean sharing with family members what you value in your relationships with them, sharing memories that don’t involve food, or letting them know what you are grateful for in continued family recovery.
• Encourage regular eating. It may be tempting to skip meals during or after a holiday — this will only make things worse. Holiday meals are just one more meal in the week. Much of the food served in any holiday meal is “healthy.” The key is portion size and moderation. Keep things as “normal” as possible.
• Talk to extended family members in advance about not pushing food or commenting on diets, calories, or weight loss. Oftentimes well-meaning family members think that the only way to enjoy the holiday is to overindulge. Talk about how much you (or they) are eating, or how to burn the calories is also not helpful.
• Practice gratitude. The holidays a great time to reflect, spend time with loved ones, and to feel gratitude for blessings received. Try keeping a gratitude journal during the holiday season or write notes about what you are grateful for. If it helps, make keeping one year round a New Year’s resolution.
• Plan, plan, plan, discuss. Think about what the challenges during past holidays or special events. Discuss your game plan with your therapist, nutritionist, or other members of your treatment team so that they can help you to prepare. You may want to appoint a “support” person in case the holiday becomes overwhelming.
• Spend the holiday talking about things that are really important: challenges, dreams, goals, or spirituality.
• Serve others. This is a wonderful way of reminding us what we have to be grateful for. Service can mean buying extra food for a local food bank, serving a holiday meal, or volunteering to do a craft at a local school.
• Have plenty of coping skills you and family members can call on: Write in journals, take a walk, draw or color – whatever helps. These coping skills are as much about those with an eating disorder as for family members.