How to Thrive During Thanksgiving When in Recovery From an Eating Disorder

By Salina Grilli, LMSW 

In an ideal world, the holiday season would be filled with nothing but joy, love, and happiness. The reality, however, is that this ‘joyful’ time of year is often filled with stress, disappointment, and sadness. Family issues, social commitments, and financial worries are just a few examples of potential stressors that can pop up around the holiday season. 

For individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, the holiday season can be especially stressful. The central role that food plays in celebrations can exacerbate anxiety and obsessive thoughts around eating. Learning to cope effectively with holiday stress can help to reduce eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.  

Here are some tips to help navigate the holiday season while in recovery from an eating disorder: 

  1. Plan Ahead. 
    Having a plan can help buffer against the eating disordered thoughts that often swirl during family and social gatherings, many of which are centered on food. Create a structured meal plan with your nutritionist or therapist. If you have a meal plan for Thanksgiving, there will be less room for your eating disorder voice to creep in and try to convince you use an eating disorder behavior.     

    Another way to plan ahead is to create a list of eating disorders thoughts that might pop up over the holidays. Next, enlist the help of your therapist to challenge or reframe each disordered thought.
     
  2. Identify Triggers.
    Make a list of anticipated holiday triggers and ways to cope. For example, that Great Aunt who, without fail, always seems comment on your appearance, body size, or food? Come up with a polite response to steer the conversation away from triggering topics.  You can even enlist the help of a family member who can provide support in those moments and help advocate.  
     
  3. Tap into your Support System.
    In eating disorder recovery, the focus often gets shifted onto food, and thus, away from the true joy of the holiday season. The holidays are a perfect time to shift your attention to what matters—relationships and moments that make life truly meaningful.  Focus on giving thanks for the support system you do have in your life.  
     
  4. Self-Care
    Amp up your self-care routine to cope ahead with holiday stress. Self-care can look different for different people. This may mean getting enough sleep, eating properly, and scheduling in relaxation time to wind down. 

Above all, practice self-compassion. Life is imperfect, and so are you. If you slip up, the best course of action is to make the next healthy decision.

Salina Grilli is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with disordered eating or body image struggles, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.