We’re less than two days away from the Turkey Day feast in the U.S., and that annual event is cause for many emotions. There are many reactions that come up for people, often a mixture of both joyful and stressful. There can be the pleasure of seeing family members and friends, the joy of cooking, the nostalgia of returning home to their parents, or the pleasure of welcoming home their own grown children and grand kids.
For still others, Thanksgiving is mostly just a mind boink to endure. Traveling during this period, particularly when flying, is often stressful, and the crowds and the cold weather can take their toll on anyone. There can also be reservations about putting up with a judgmental in-law or the Debbie Downer cousins. When you add an eating disorder into the mix, Thanksgiving can become a pretty tense time, for both sufferers and their loved ones. The thing is not to assume every moment will be difficult, nor will every challenge be insurmountable.
Here are some ways to help take care of yourself during this holiday:
Set The Tone
If you are used to having family members or friends comment on what you’re eating or not eating, take a moment to pull them aside and make a declaration. If you are in recovery, you can calmly say something like, “I know that you have seen me when I was pretty sick, and it’s understandable that you might want to comment on what I eat, but at this point it would just serve to be awkward and unhelpful. I have made real progress in getting better, and I will do my best to anticipate when and what I want to eat. I appreciate you letting that happen without making comments.” You can even tell this to one designated person, and ask that they tell some of the others on your behalf.
If you are not in recovery, or you are still in the early days, you can also make a statement or request to people (though you may have less credence with your audience). If you can say it and mean it, try something like, “I often have had trouble with holidays that are so focused on food, but I’m trying to make this year different. If you see me struggling, I understand you will be concerned, but please do not make a public statement in front of others. I promise to do my best to make some progress, and I’m more likely to accomplish that if I’m not worried about being monitored and commented on.”
Negotiate Your Moments With Food
If you typically struggle with binge eating, consider that rather than white-knuckling your way through each meal, you have the opportunity to experiment with some basic recovery techniques. Binge eating often takes place in private, and it can make a person feel anxious to be around a lot of food and know they can’t use an active behavior with a dozen or more people around. Take those moments to experiment with eating slowly and thoughtfully. Give yourself the opportunity to rediscover true stomach hunger cues. Tell yourself that if you don’t eat that second or third piece of pie now, it doesn’t mean it disappears. Leftovers are just that: left over.
If you typically struggle with restricting food, you also have some learning opportunities. If a particular dessert or side dish is normally on your list of No-No foods, make a commitment to put a small amount on a plate and not automatically judge yourself. Be mindful of each bite, and tell yourself that you have as much right to enjoy the dish as anyone else. Would you yell at your six-year-old niece not to eat the pie because she will get fat? Of course not. Tell yourself the same thing. Would you slap the mashed potatoes bowl out of your grandfather’s hand and say, “Do you know how many calories are in that?!”. You would not, and you don’t deserve to have that voice in your own head either.
Make Yourself a Care Package
Whether you’re crossing the state or the country, or the whole holiday takes place in your own home, pack a small bag for yourself. Put things in it that promote small moments of peace, ways to center yourself, and reminders of your worth and your recovery. It can include things like a printout of affirmations, a book you’re currently enjoying or want to start, a photo of someone you love and trust, a journal, a coloring book and crayons, or your iPod.
When you feel stress piling up on you, excuse yourself – even just for 5 or 10 minutes – and take something from your bag. Lock yourself in the bathroom and listen to a favorite song or sit on the floor and color in your book. Offer to make the last minute run to buy more paper plates, and use part of that time to sit in the car and read through your affirmations. Excuse yourself to a private room and write in your journal or send a quick text to a friend. Create moments in your day to take care of yourself.
Set The Timer
Even if people or situations seem to be going out of their way to be difficult and stressful, there is a time limit to it all. Break down the day into chunks. Give yourself credit for each section of the day (the morning, a particular meal, a visit to someone), or even mark off each hour as it passes (keep a tiny notebook handy). You will see that time is indeed passing, and the end of the weekend is inevitable.
Remind yourself that you have resources, and Thanksgiving need not gobble you up.
Visit Grace on the Moon, a website for eating
disorders information and recovery:
Photo at top of blog is from the Flickr account
of Kim Seng