I’ve lived all of my life in the UK apart from the last six years so thankfully (pun intended) I didn’t have to deal with Thanksgiving when I was at my sickest with Anorexia. I did, however, have to deal with Christmas and other UK holidays. And things like family gatherings, weddings, birthdays, etc etc.
For an adult with an eating disorder, holidays and big celebrations are shitty.
Well, it is not the celebration or the people that are shitty. It is the eating disorder that is shitty. Eating disorders love nothing more than to turn a perfectly enjoyable event into something on par with the day your Rumba ran over a dog turd in your living room.
In order words crap smeared all over everything.
Oh, and it’s not as if it is just that one day that is effected either. Nope. Thanksgiving for example can provoke a shit storm that lasts weeks and weeks. There is the pre-event anxiety, relentless looping eating disorder thoughts on how to plan to avoid food that day etc, sleeplessness, panic attacks and overall feeling of dread.
Then there is the big day. You are a ball of chaos but somehow you have to appear serene, calm, and as if you are loving everything as much as everyone else. It’s not really the done thing to appear as a ball of rage at Thanksgiving dinner, which is a shame as frankly that is how an eating disorder makes you feel. Either that or like you are having a nervous breakdown and all you want to do is crawl under the table and weep like a small child.
Nope. Nope, you can’t do any of those things. You have to appear as if this is the best day ever and whatever you do don’t ruin it for everyone else.
If that’s not bad enough, your eating disorder hasn’t finished with you yet. No, it also plans to fill the day and week after the holiday with an avalanche of shame.
Let’s not allow it to do any of that.
How to Handle Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder:
So how can we plan for success at Thanksgiving. Here are some ideas, and things that I have done to help me through.
1. Do Not Allow Your Eating Disorder to Obsess.
You cannot control the thoughts that it generates (these do go away with recovery through) but you can control your reaction to them. We do not negotiate with terrorists, and we do not negotiate with eating disorders!
Here is an example. A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, your eating disorder will start to chime in with thoughts like “you should start exercising more now in order to prepare for all the food you are going to eat at Thanksgiving.” Or, another little gem is “you shouldn’t eat as much now to prepare you for all the food you will stuff your face with at Thanksgiving.”
Your reaction can either be:
A: Really, oh God. Maybe. Maybe I should exercise more. Maybe I should eat less. Maybe etc etc etc.
B: Fuck off eating disorder you are not the boss of me.
I strongly recommend that you start to practice option B. Better still add a clause “and just for annoying me I am going to eat an additional bar of chocolate today just to piss you off.” Because that will teach your eating disorder that you mean business and it better pipe down and leave you alone.
This is hard at first, but it is a perfect opportunity to start practicing shutting your ED thoughts down. It’s like that annoying younger brother who is constantly poking you with a stick, but like your mother always said you don’t have to let him get to you. When you feel yourself starting to panic, or you notice that you are thinking about Thanksgiving again: take a deep breath, become calm, and politely tell your eating disorder to go fuck itself.
Divert Thoughts to Something More Interesting
So you told your eating disorder off. Now what? You’ll have a moments blank space in your head where the eating disorder’s obsessive thoughts were. Unless you fill it with something else your ED will start to chime in again.
Be proactive. Have something more important to think about queued up. If shoes are your thing, then how about you start to worry about what shoes you are going to wear on Thanksgiving instead. Okay, I am not a shoes girl, so that wouldn’t work for me. I tend to default to worrying about who Mary is going to marry in Downton Abbey. Or what I am going to write about next in this blog. Or the state of American politics.
Shoes is probably preferable to the latter.
Do NOT Reduce Your Intake the Day Before.
So tempting. DO NOT DO IT. You know that reducing your intake or skipping a meal gives more power to your eating disorder. If you empower it the day before Thanksgiving it will make hell for you on Thanksgiving day (and don’t let it try and tell you it won’t).
Whatever you do, do not skip a meal in preparation for eating more on Thanksgiving day. This is a trick, and for eating disorders it is the oldest trick in the book.
Do NOT Reduce Your Intake at Breakfast on Thanksgiving Day
Same reasoning as above. Don’t even consider it an option. It’s not happening. You are eating breakfast the same as any other day. You are also eating your mid-morning snack.
Get Someone Else to Plate Up for You at Thanksgiving Meal
Let’s just make this super easy by removing the opportunity for your eating disorder to bug you. Get your spouse, mother, father-in-law, or anyone else to plate up a meal for you. the only other rule after that is that you have to eat everything on the plate. No negotiations remember.
Commit to Not Dwelling.
So you just at Thanksgiving dinner. So what. Big deal. It really is not that interesting. Oh, your eating disorder thinks its really the most interesting thing to happen since Elvis, but we don’t care what your eating disorder thinks, do we?
Commit to not indulging in a post-meal analysis. Just don’t go there. Watch something on the TV snuggled up with your family or play a game of Scrabble instead.
Stick to the Meal Plan the Day Following … and Forever.
Eating disorder will rear it’s ugly head at breakfast the next morning no doubt. It will try and tell you some bullshit about how you ate too much yesterday and you should skip breakfast. But you don’t care what ED says. You’re stronger than that. You are going to eat breakfast, then you are going to eat your mid-morning snack, and you are going to continue with your meal plan today, and the next day, and forever. Because you are in recovery and you are going to win.
If you want more support, I now run a peer support Slack for adults in recovery. You can bet we will be talking about how to have a wonderful Thanksgiving and not allowing your eating disorder to ruin it there. Check it out!