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Tip Day: Surviving Thanksgiving Without Losing Your Mind

Posted Nov 17 2010 10:17pm
When I was actively ill with the eating disorder, Thanksgiving was effectively a Day of Torture.  A holiday all about food and eating?  Count me out.

I still don't exactly look forward to thanksgiving, but I don't dread it, either.  After many, many years, I've learned how to cope with the holidays and survive in one piece.  Some of it is the hard work of recovery, and some of it are simple tips that I've figured out over the years.

1. Lower your expectations.  Norman Rockwell may have painted portraits of a nice, happy family sitting around a table with a turkey.  I don't know about you, but my Thanksgiving dinners never looked like that.  People bickered or got drunk.  Dishes got burnt.  Or the slightly deranged second cousin shows up, all gung ho with her new religion/cult/whatever.  It's nice when families get along, but that can be the exception, not the rule.  It gets easier to deal with all those familial imperfections once you stop expecting families to be happy and nice.

2. Ask what you can bring.  Lots of food I'm not preparing was always stressful.  If I brought at least one dish, however, at least I had something I knew was safe.  It helped me make it through the meal.

3. Eat before or after. It would be nice if recovery was nice and easy and you could push through and eat normal-sized portions at dinner.  But recovery isn't nice and easy.  Sometimes, you do the best you can do.  Maybe you're too anxious to eat, or you don't feel comfortable, or you have to eat a lot and you don't want to look odd.  Whatever.  In that case, eat a little before you go and /or eat after you get home.  That way, you can participate in the whole Thanksgiving festivities (keeping in mind point #1) and still meet your nutritional requirements.

4. Find out what's being served.  This is pretty related to points number 2 and 3, but it's still something I have found to be helpful. It helps me decrease anxiety because I know what to expect.  As well, I can figure out what will fit into my meal plan, I can decide what I need to bring (or what several things I want to bring), and what to have before or after.

5. Talk to your treatment team first.  Your therapist, dietician, or whoever can help you troubleshoot any emotional or family issues that may arise, as well as help you deal with the practical aspects around the food part.  It can help to roleplay some of the comments that may arise around weight and food, or other kooky comments.

6. Create an emergency plan.  When I've been in stressful situations, I like to have a sort of safety valve.  Sometimes I've asked a friend to call at a prearranged time so I can go and get some air.  Or I'll find an empty room and do some deep breathing.  I've brought books to read, games to play with the kids, that sort of thing.  It helps to make everything less about the food and more about the crazy people you're related to.

7. 'Fess up. If you feel comfortable with the host/hostess, or at least someone else at the gathering, talk to them about your eating disorder.  They can provide support and help run interference if people make inappropriate comments, you start to get triggered, or you start to use symptoms.

What helps you make it through the holidays? Share your tips in the comments section.
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