When Thanksgiving and Eating Disorders Collide

By David Carrigan

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Thanksgiving is a time to come together with family, friends and loved ones. An opportunity to take a pause, reflect, and express your gratitude for life’s privileges. However, for the approximately 8 million Americans struggling with an eating disorder Thanksgiving takes on a different meaning. It is anxiety-ridden, stress-inducing, and a significant challenge.

The sheer volume of food options available can be overwhelming. The anticipation and stress of what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to eat can become crippling. A person struggling with an ED can feel as if they are in a pressure cooker in these situations. Offhand comments such as your aunt’s need to diet, your uncle’s jokes about eating until he throws up, or your grandmother insisting on that second helping just send you deeper into your own thoughts.

For many, these insignificant moments are barely noticed, but when you are battling or recovering from an ED, they are monumental. Despite the challenge that the holiday presents you can come out on the other side happy and healthy. Below are a few tips to help you navigate this holiday.

1. Craft and utilize a support system.

You’re not in this alone. I will repeat, you are not in this alone. Navigating the feast that makes up Thanksgiving in a healthy way can seem like an impossible task. However, by utilizing a support system, you can have loved ones, professionals, and friends on your side. Everyone’s support system is going to be different. Find the dynamic that’s right for you. It can be a safe person that will be at dinner with you or a whole team that helps you prepare.

2. Stick to your routine/meal plan

Don’t think that just because a big meal will be taking place that you have to change your whole routine. Keeping yourself in the healthy habits you have developed will carry you through the tough times. This means eating healthy the day before and the morning of. Skipping meals or making dramatic changes to account for Thanksgiving can increase anxiety, get you out of your routine, and make things more difficult.

3. Be kind and compassionate to yourself

This holiday, in particular, can be one of the most challenging for individuals with ED. Keep your expectations in check and remember that there will be bumps in the road. When you encounter these bumps show yourself compassion and allow for forgiveness. There will be multiple moments when your ED thoughts present themselves, that’s when you leverage your support system. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a stumble. Stay focused on healthy thoughts and remind yourself that with continued work things will become manageable.

4. Remember what Thanksgiving is all about

Finally, remember what the true spirit of Thanksgiving is about- your family, friends and loved ones. When your ED thoughts begin to consume your headspace, find yourself a place in which you feel comfortable. It may be outside or could be a room away from the commotion, either way, use it to refocus those thoughts. With so much attention placed on food, you’ll need to remind yourself there is more to the holiday than the meal.


About The David Carrigan

David Carrigan graduated from The University of New Hampshire in 2012 with a B.A in Psychology. He is currently working towards a Masters Degree in Social Work at Boston ...

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