This is for everyone! When it comes to Turkey Day and eating disorders the whole holiday and the days leading up to it are filled with anxiety, stress and over exercise (well, to each their own.) An estimated 10 million Americans will be “freaking the Fuuuuck out” this Thanksgiving. As they sit, palms sweaty, mind racing, and resentments growing at a table filled with food, their addiction stare them in the face. Let’s not forget the poor family members who have the task of preparing this thankless meal. Think about the family that gets a meal served with fat free fixings and micro managed poultry. And finally, please for love of all things holy, please no one say a word about the pies that have gone missing. Yes, Thanksgiving and eating go together, but Thanksgiving and eating disorders do not.
My Thanksgiving experiences are not unique in the ED community. When I reached out to fellow colleagues, clients, family members and friends, the tales I heard all started out the same. High stress and anxiety levels began days leading up to the holiday. ED’s worried about what to cook, how to approach eating at the dinner table, whether to be excused from the meal all together, how to get rid of the food, how to hide the food, etc. The list of worries and concerns went on and on. The people who had or were suffering from ED were continually trying to come up with tricks to make it through the holiday. Meanwhile, the families and friends were just wanted anything to help them enjoy it. What jumped out to me was the disconnects in communication between each group. It was like they were trying to do or say what they needed but could not.
Let me explain…
ED Thanksgiving trick #1
The control freak that must micro manage every detail! He or she feels more comfortable eating when they know every single detail aka calorie that goes into the meal.
Tip #1 for the family:
If the ED has not been in recovery long or not at all, you need to realize this eating tactic is fear based. Holidays are not good times to address ED issues. My tip is to thank the ED for the hard work they put into the meal and bring some of your own sides to share. Let them know you just wanted to participate in the holiday. If they are working on their recovery, offer to cook along side them. It maybe healing to have support. Also if they share a fear about something they maybe cooking, just listen. I love it when my mom does this.
Tip #1 for the ED:
Communicate as openly and honestly has you can about why it feels safer for you to prepare the meal. Ask yourself is there anything you can let control of? If you have been in recovery for some time, share this time with a trusted member of the family and ask for support. Cooking is about sharing and love. My mom and I laugh now about all food I used to be so fearful of. Butter was on the top of the list and 2% milk, which means we made a lot of food with fat free everything at the beginning of my recovery.
ED Thanksgiving trick #2
The bossy ED barking orders that “everything must be cooked like this,” trick!! You don’t understand that I have an eating disorder, and if you want me to sit down at this stupid table, the food will be exactly the way I say!! (Btw this was I, sorry Mom.)
Tip #2 for the family:
Spend a holiday away traveling (even if it’s a day trip) and don’t put the focus on the meal. Put it the focus on spending time with one another and having fun. The disease can be selfish and self-seeking not the person. Try taking them and you away from the table.
Tip #2 for the ED:
When I was early in recovery my folks and I would travel to the Grand Canyon and go hiking. Those holidays we ate in cafeterias, it’s wasn’t moms turkey dinner but we did all get to choose what we wanted to eat and there was a lot less stress (and bitchiness) because the focus wasn’t on the meal. My girlfriend and her family would pack a picnic and go to the beach. Her dad told me it made his holiday a lot better because his wife and daughter weren’t fighting each other days before and he never saw one tear on those Thanksgivings.
“ED Thanksgiving trick #3”
“I will only take small amounts of everything, so no one thinks I am fat. When they aren’t looking, I will hide food in my room so I can eat alone.”
Tip #3 for the family:
If you know this behavior is going on, let your love one know you love them. Please, don’t shame them or guilty them. This behavior is part of the disease and the phenomenon of craving. Wanting to hide food can be for a number of reasons. Recovery starts with being aware of behaviors and getting rid of denial. Talk them about how much you love them, and that support is possible. Rebecca’s Foundation has coaching that is there for you and your love to reach out for.
Tip #3 for the ED:
Quiet reflection before and after meals can be helpful. I have clients write in journals about what feelings are coming up before and after eating. Then, I have them name 3 things they are grateful for or 3 things they like about themselves. This helpful tool gets feelings and emotions out, but always helps us reflect on positivity.
ED Thanksgiving trick #4
“Fine I’ll come to Thanksgiving dinner. Why not, I am just gonna throw it up anyway.”
Tip #4 for the family:
This one is hard. It’s a lot like watching your weird drunk uncle have way too much wine. You know things are going to get messy, but you can’t stop it. (This one is I practiced, too, but with the wine and the binging and purging. Sorry, folks.)
Get creative!!! Take the focus off the meal. Have them go volunteer at a soup kitchen for the holiday, seriously!
Tip #4 for the ED:
Play along with the creative idea.One of the most healing things I have ever done in recovery is give back, especially giving food to those who need it. Service is not only healing, but is one of the best gifts we give ourselves. It also keeps your mind, body and spirit busy, so you can’t think about yourself.
ED Thanksgiving trick #5
I wear baggy clothes so know one will notice my weight!
Tip #5 for the family:
Please reframe from talking about body weight. It is a sensitive subject!!! Also, don’t talk about what’s on their plate or what’s not on their plate. Make the meal casual for everyone. My advice is to have one meal, if not all of them, in peace.
Here is a fun and heart felt dinner table conversation tip. Ask everyone to bring a joke, poem, or a prayer to the table. Then share with one another. My family loves to do this, I always look forward to what my dad comes up with, it is usually a funky poem about dogs. Weirdo!
Tip for the #5 ED:
Be comfortable. Wear whatever makes you feel great. To help create the most peace this holiday, be grateful and try your best. And smile!!!
These are just a few examples that popped out at me when I nosed around. The biggest and best advice I could give to both parties is communicating. Be open and honest about how you feel. Recovery isn’t linear and eating disorders have a lot of masks. One thing I do know for sure is support and community is always an email or a meeting away. My final tip!! 12-step programs (any) have meetings all over the world, every single hour of the day. The same 12 steps are used in eating disorder recovery. So, if you need help on Thanksgiving, you are always welcome at an meeting. Just sit and listen to the message and replace the words with food or eating disorder (if it is a closed meeting you will be asked not to share but you can still attend). Happy Thanksgiving everyone and remember the best way to be thankful this year to take one step everyday towards recovery. XOXO