Blog

Nov25
2019

Surviving (Maybe Even Enjoying) Thanksgiving With an Eating Disorder

By Lauren Penna

Thanksgiving: a time to spend the day with family and friends, perhaps play or watch some football, or maybe suffer through awkward conversations around a much too formal dining table.

Oh—and the food. It’s always about the food. There are commercials dedicated to the holiday spreads and companies that thrive off of this single day in the United States. A holiday famous for eating and indulging.

For those of us with an eating disorder, it’s anything but a day to “give in” and indulge. It’s a mental minefield.

On a holiday centered around food, it’s near impossible for me, a person with an eating disorder, to maintain a healthy mindset. I’m expected to let go and induce my own “food coma.” Talking about and focusing on food becomes a cultural norm for a day, and the deepest, darkest parts of my story arise in a very tangible way. They sit before me, threatening and reminding me of what I’ve been through and the battles I’ve already fought. And worse, it feels as though there is no hope of escaping it.

Let’s take the Thanksgiving buffet line, for example:

While family members carry on conversations as they dump spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy onto their paper plates—a quality I envy—there’s a loud and persistent internal dialog happening within that requires my full attention.

It goes something like this—

ED: You need to pay attention to exactly how much you put on the plate. Everyone is watching how much you’re eating.

Me: No, it doesn’t matter and no one cares. 

ED: Okay, skip dessert then.

Me: Dessert is the best part of being in this family. We never skip dessert.  

ED: Well, you’ll need to work out at least two hours tomorrow morning to prevent weight gain. 

Me: That’s not how weight gain works.

ED: This could be the start of a pattern—and that’s exactly how weight gain works. 

Me: I am capable of making healthy decisions. You can go.  

And this is all within a quick walk around the potluck.

My eating disorder is brutal. No matter how long I’ve been in recovery, it continues to turn everything and anything into a threat—and it’s very good at it. It’s hard to say what will happen when someone mentions a new diet they’re planning to try post-holidays, even more challenging to know how far my brain will spiral into an abyss when someone innocently comments on everything I’ve eaten. So, of course the holidays are anxiety-producing. Of course, I dread them.

It’s exhausting.

But, it’s not impossible.

I have survived 28 Thanksgivings so far. I can endure the 29th. I might even enjoy it. Because I deal with disordered eating, I go into the day a little differently than most. I need a plan to stay healthy—mind, body, and spirit.

To my dear friends in a similar boat, as we head into the holiday season, I offer you these three pieces of advice:

Have an escape. 

Maybe you can step outside for a moment. Maybe you find another quiet room. Take a moment of silence—or screaming—when your eating disorder gets too loud. You are allowed to escape and find solitude within the chaos of the day.

Have an ally on hand. 

For me, my phone is a necessity during the holidays. I need a lifeline to reach out when I get overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s even someone in the room. Whoever it is, I make a point to tell them that today might be hard for me and I might ask for some extra support. I may not end up needing their help in the end, but being able to admit that the day has the potential to be hard is therapeutic.

Take. Your. Time. 

If you need an extra five minutes to stare at the sweet potato casserole because you and your ED are in the midst of a debate—take all the time you need to quiet your head.

Most of all, be gentle with yourself. You are allowed to struggle. Your experience is your own. No matter how strange or ridiculous it seems to you or to others, know that what you’re feeling is yours to feel.

The holidays can present countless hardships; I wish I could cancel all of them. The anxiety for what is yet to come feels illogical. But the best I can do for myself is to remember that I will survive, I am not alone, and I can be okay even when it feels next to impossible.

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Comments (4)

  1. LR

    Thank you. This was so important for me to read today. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply  |  
  2. Brigitte

    I am glad to know I am NOT alone. I was just sitting here and thinking to myself, I feel alone and then this email popped up.
    I feel better already knowing there are others out there who struggle with disordered eating. I have been dealing with this issue for most of my life, and I am now 52 yrs. old. It never really totally goes away, That is the images and thoughts surrounding the FOOD. BUT there is hope. I have been in recovery for Bulimia and Anorexia for a year and a half, with one of the BEST doctors in Asheville. I hope to find joy and happiness every day. And the happiness I find, is NOT going to be in food. I know that much already. Grateful for this moment. B.B.

    Reply  |  
  3. Ellie

    Thank you for noticing those of us who so often go unnoticed.

    Reply  |  
  4. Natalie

    Thank you so much for sharing. I can relate to this on so many levels. I esspecially liked the dialogue -it was so accurate.

    Reply  |  
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