Thanksgiving wasn’t necessarily a happy holiday for me. It even triggered my first foray into true disordered eating. My parents were divorced and I’d alternate years as to who I spent the holiday with. When it was with my Mom, it tended to be rough. We would go to the house of my Grandmother’s husband’s daughter in Connecticut.
That family was so different than mine. My Grandmother would constantly compare me to my cousin, “why can’t you be more like Allison?” Allison was tall and skinny, I was short and athletic. Allison had a life that I could never imagine. She lived in a big house in the suburbs- her mother didn’t work, but stayed home and made big elaborate Thanksgiving dinners, complete with pies, homemade whipped cream and creamed onions.
I, on the other hand, lived alone in a small apartment in New York City with my Mom. She worked two jobs and was allergic to onions. Allison would leave the house after Thanksgiving dinner to go sledding with her friends. And me, there was no sledding. I was mostly alone in our apartment, sitting in front of the television eating cheerios with milk and waiting for my Mom to come home. I remember one Thanksgiving when I was in 7th grade. I ate so much pie that I thought I was going to bust open and my Grandmother pinched me and whispered into my ear, “you’ve had enough pie Miss Fatty…” I walked into their upstairs bathroom, rummaged through the cabinets and took several chocolate ex-lax. I have no idea why or how I’d gotten that idea. When we got home, the laxatives kicked in and I spent the night on the toilet, intermittently weighing myself after every trip to see how much “weight” I was losing. I was so sick and it was awful.
Thanksgiving can be a rough holiday for lots of people. It can bring up feelings of being lonely, being an outsider, not having real friends or close family, and then there’s the food that can cause stress and anxiety. Here are 15 tips that will help you make this year’s Thanksgiving one you truly enjoy and remember.
1. Be mindful of Phantom urges
Phantom urges are desires to reenact the same behaviors that you did when you were young because you are either with your family of origin or in a situation that is old and familiar to you. For instance, you go home to visit your family and although you haven’t binged and purged in years, you find that you are having urges to act out with food as soon as everyone goes to sleep. Being back in the same place where your behaviors began reminds you of those behaviors. However, they’re not attached to any real desire or need. When you notice those urges coming up, remind yourself “oh, this isn’t real, it’s an old behavior attached to an old desire because I’m in an old place… but I don’t have to follow it through.”
2. Be intentional with food and alcohol
Before you even go into the meal, set some loving and kind boundaries with yourself about what you will eat and how much you will drink. Making this intention will help you to empower yourself around food and alcohol rather than letting the food and accompanying thoughts take over. Share this intention with a family member or supportive friend or your therapist.
3. Set boundaries
Before you go, set a boundary with your family to not make any comments about what and how much you are eating or to push food on you. That includes not pushing leftovers on you.
4. Build support into your day
Make sure you have an important support resource at the meal with you. This could be the Rise Up + Recover app, a recovery buddy or sponsor that you will be talking to before, during and after the meal or even bring a good friend with you to the meal.
5. Don’t show up super hungry
Don’t restrict breakfast in anticipation of a big Thanksgiving meal and make sure you are nourished before you go so that you can make mindful choices.
6. Engage in conversation
Set an intention to have meaningful conversations with people you haven’t spoken to before or people you love and don’t see very often. Try to talk to people in rooms away from food so that it doesn’t pull your attention away from being present with those you love.
7. Slow down
Try to eat your dinner slowly and mindfully so that you can really enjoy good food and good conversation. Don’t compulsively overexercise in anticipation of “eating extra calories.” It will leave you very tired and hungry, again, unable to empower yourself to hold your intention.
8. Take walks or time outs
Let yourself leave the situation and take mini breaks. Let yourself get away from the stress of the food and the stress of family that sometimes exists. If it’s too cold or not realistic for you to leave, take your cell phone into another room and say you need to make an important call and talk to your support person.
If you feel anxious or stressed out, escape to the bathroom and do a five minute breathing/meditating ritual. Breathe in through your nose to the count of 10 and exhale through your nose to the count of 10. Do this 10 times and you will calm your mind and body.
10. Create a gratitude list
Before you go – think of everything you are truly blessed with this year and bring it with you to glance at if you are noticing that you’re feeling bad.
11. Don’t act your age
Play with the kids a lot or spend time talking to elder friends and hearing their stories. Both these things will fill you and enrich you.
12. Opt in or out
If your recovery feels vulnerable right now and you think the holiday might be too difficult, remember that you don’t have to go. It’s true, you might let some people down. But you can always explain to them that it’s important for you to take care of yourself in this way this year. If you don’t think that they’d be amenable to this, or you think that they will accuse you of being self centered or self absorbed, don’t offer any explanation that might leave you vulnerable to being shamed or insulted.
Perhaps you might go for the early part of the day and spend the rest of the day volunteering to serve meals at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
14. Plan for the evening
Plan for what you will do that evening after you get home. Feeling full can trigger a binge in many people – so plan to do something relaxing when you get home that night and be done eating (e.g. conversation with good friend, watching a good movie on Netflix, etc.).
15. Plan for the day after
Have an amazing day planned for the day after Thanksgiving. Do something wonderful – go to a spa, go see a movie with friends, spend the day organizing in a loving way. Just think of something you really want to do and make plans to actually do it! Having exciting plans will help you feel anticipatory and excited on Thanksgiving Day.