To Those Fearing the Thanksgiving Table…

A Thanksgiving place setting, including ornate plates, a gold charger, and a decorative pumpkin.

You are not alone.

You are not alone in wondering why—or how, rather—your friends and family enjoy Thanksgiving with such abandon. You are not the only one who sees this Thursday as the first trial of a long holiday series, the first of many get-togethers where you feel extra eyes on you and your plate.

You are not the only one just trying to survive.

Others will pull up chairs to Thanksgiving tables with similar worry, self-doubt, and guilt. They’ll feel equally distressed by the platters and bowls and dishes before them, their fears garnished with cranberries and french-fried onions. Others too will feel confused and resentful, maybe even angry, as their company gives thanks for their food and then, in the same breath, condemns it for sabotaging their diets.

An eating disorder’s voice tends to be particularly loud and acidic this time of year. Its usual taunts and insults may feel more intense given the fuss around the “big meal” ahead. Its lies may even be normalized as Thanksgiving chitchat.

You are not the only one overwhelmed.

It’s okay to not feel excited about Thanksgiving—to wish the holiday would pass quickly and the relatives would go home. It’s okay to leave the “I’m thankful for. . .” sentence incomplete.

It’s okay to merely survive.

This Thanksgiving meal is one meal, one of over a thousand we have each year. Cultural hype and tradition build it up, but our bodies expect as much from it as from any meal before or after it. We’ll extract nutrients from it just as we do from meals on January 1, the Fourth of July, and a random Monday in September.

Let it be known: We don’t need to “pre-tox” or “detox” this “feast season.” We don’t need to “make room” for Thanksgiving dinner by skipping breakfast. We don’t need to “save” or “earn” calories or swap carbs for “healthy” alternatives. We don’t need to “gobble ‘til we wobble” in our stretchiest pair of pants.

The usual holiday commentary on food and bodies is diet culture on full display.

It’s Aunt Barb reminding everyone of the Turkey Trot she ran as she grabs another roll. It’s Grandpa quizzing the table about the calories in the average Thanksgiving meal. It’s Dad comparing pecan pie to a Big Mac and Uncle Bob joking that his diet starts tomorrow.

It’s likely these comments are meant as small talk—trivia passed along as casually as the weather. They’re problematic. But please know that they say more about our society’s idea of appropriate, interesting conversation than you or your recovery. Know that the Internet’s “healthy Thanksgiving recipes” are not written with your recovery in mind, and Instagram influencers and morning show hosts do not know what’s best for you.

Recovery asks you to cut through the noise.

There is room for green bean casserole and sage stuffing and yes, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, in your meal plan. There is room for corn, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. There is room for old favorites and new additions—all foods fit. Allow your treatment team to show you how your Thanksgiving menu satisfies your specific needs.

As you plan your plate, plan responses to any comments about food, bodies, or your recovery as well. Prepare a canned reply to the usual offenders in advance.

  • “Could we please talk about something other than calories, weight, or diets?”
  • “I’d rather not discuss what’s on my plate or how I look.”
  • “Let’s make this table a safe place with topics that we’re all comfortable with.”
  • “This food isn’t ‘bad,’ it’s succulent.” (Or herbal, flaky, aromatic. Fruity. Salty. Peppery. Any genuinely descriptive adjective will do.)
  • “I’d prefer not to talk about treatment or recovery.”

You may decide the tone, language, and the amount you’d like to share in establishing these boundaries, but do make them known and clear. Rally additional support for defending them. Perhaps Mom can reiterate the table rules if the discussion drifts toward diet, or a niece can offer her review of this year’s Macy’s parade if the conversation lulls.

If your boundaries are not respected, it’s okay to excuse yourself from the table. It’s okay to let others know you feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to leave early.

It’s okay to protect your recovery as you see fit.

Maybe you plan activities unrelated to food. You help your nephew color the turkey in the newspaper or your sister complete her holiday wish list. You walk your dog. You watch football or A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or that movie you’ve seen 145 times before. You send Thanksgiving emojis to your contact list.

Perhaps you fill your ears with motivating songs. You thumb to the chapter of your favorite book or pull out that card your best friend sent last month. You slap recovery quotes on your phone’s lock screen and on the steering wheel you’ll use to get home.

You breathe.

Thanksgiving is a day you can survive.

Please know that you are remarkable in your resiliency and courage for facing this holiday. You are remarkable for sharing a meal with loved ones who may not fully understand the grip of your eating disorder. You are remarkable for keeping your eyes on your own plate and for snapping back at the mental noise imploring you to do otherwise.

You are remarkable for fighting for Thanksgivings to come.

Thank you for the work you’re doing this week, for your incredible show of strength and faith. Thank you for showing us and those in the same seat that it can be done.

If your eating disorder is interfering with your meals—holiday or otherwise—we hope you’ll reach out for help. The Emily Program provides specialized eating disorder treatment for all types of eating disorders. Please call us at 1-888-364-5977 or complete our online form to learn more.

With gratitude, hope, and peace this Thanksgiving,

The Emily Program

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