Thanksgiving day is on the near horizon. I know that people suffering from eating disorders in the USA are already having a hard time dealing with the pre-Thanksgiving meal anxiety, so here are some tools to help everyone enjoy the day.
Thanksgiving Day Eating Disorder Contract
I wrote this up so that both sufferers and family members who are helping them recover from an eating disorder can have an additional contract to whatever they have put in place as suggested by my recovery guides.
If you are a sufferer working alone you can still use this contract, you just have to draw it up and sign it for yourself. I strongly recommend that you find a family member or friend to help you with this. Your eating disorder will allow you to lie to yourself, but the hope is that having another person involved will stop the eating disorder from lying to them.
The idea of an additional Thanksgiving Day contract is that it provides structure for the holiday, it also acknowledges that holidays are particularly hard for people with eating disorders, and proactively starts a discussion around ways in which this can be addressed.
All too often, the eating disorder becomes the elephant in the room again at Thanksgiving. If you are acting as an EDCP (Eating Disorder Check Person) it is important that you draw the EDS (Eating Disorder Sufferer) into conversation around this as early as possible. Remember, a symptom of the disorder is trying to hide the anxiety and stress that the disorder creates. Do not wait for the EDS to come to you and initiate conversation about the stress they are feeling. You have to make the first move.
If they do manage to come to you and want to talk about Thanksgiving stress, take that as a real sign of progress. But certainly do not wait for it to happen.
As you will see in the sample contract I have provided, exercise is addressed. Before, during and after Thanksgiving, the eating disorder sufferer will feel compelled to exercise more. Pay close attention to this as if they are allowed to do so the eating disorder will become stronger. No negotiations. If a person is underweight they should not be exercising at all — even before or during a holiday.
I also address the meal plan structure. You should be following a 3 meals and 3 snacks per day meal plan and this is not to alter due to Thanksgiving. An eating disorder sufferer will likely feel compelled to miss meals especially breakfast on Thanksgiving day. This strengthens the eating disorder and will actually make eating Thanksgiving dinner harder. All meals have to be eaten as per the meal plan. The Thanksgiving dinner should be written into the meal plan for that week.
Thanksgiving Day Check Ins
It is important that the eating disorder sufferer and EDCP check in a couple of times during the day. For example, if you are at a family gathering, things can be hectic. Pre-plan a check in time.
Example: if you are arriving at your mother-in-laws at 11am for a 1pm Thanksgiving dinner, make sure that you have a 12:30pm check in planned where you both go outside or somewhere you can talk in private. In this time the EDCP should check in with the EDS about how they are feeling, levels of anxiety, and help brainstorm ways of reducing anxiety if required. You should also plan to do this sometime after the Thanksgiving meal.
Can’t think of an excuse to get away for a check in? Get creative and pre-plan what your excuse can be. I would do something like leave something in the car so that you both have an excuse to go outside and get it.
Preparing the Family
You can’t expect extended family to understand an eating disorder. But you can pre-prep them. I wrote up this Thanksgiving Eating Disorder Two-Pager that if you like you can send to family members ahead of time.
This is designed purely as a bit of an explanation and what to do, what not to do that you can give to loved ones so that they understand a little bit more about what an eating disorder sufferer is going through, and how not to put their foot in it.
It is important that the eating disorder sufferer doesn’t plate up their own food. If you are the sufferer yourself, then make sure that you ask you EDCP or a family member to plate your food for you. If you are EDCP then this is your job.
Once given a plate of food, the sufferer then has to eat it as per instructed by the EDCP. If they become too full or feel overfaced, then they should quietly talk to the EDCP. For this reason, it helps if the sufferer and EDCP are sat next to one another. If you do not want to have to talk about these things in front of family, then make sure you have some code words set ahead of time.
For example, if the sufferer wants to leave something on the plate, they might say to the EDCP “Do you think there has been enough rain this year?”
If EDCP says “No” that means they have to eat more. If “Yes,” then they have eaten enough and can stop.
However, unless the meal served was abnormally large, the sufferer should clear the plate. Another advantage of having the EDCP plate up the food is that he or she will know how to plate a portion that is both achievable and adequate.
I hope this helps. Shout me via email if you have any questions. Also, remember that I have Slack groups that are peer support forums for both adults in recovery and caregivers of adults in recovery. You can join those and get additional support.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!