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6 Steps To Reduce Thanksgiving Fear & Anxiety With An Eating Disorder

6 Steps To Reduce Thanksgiving Fear & Anxiety With An Eating Disorder

For many people, Thanksgiving marks the “kick-of” to the holiday season and is a welcomed time that includes the opportunity to spend quality time with the ones we love. Many people reflect on the traditions and memories they have come to know and cherish during this time of the year.  Unfortunately, for individuals who struggle with disordered eating, the holiday season can mean a heightened level of stress and anxiety. My hope is that you will take these steps to heart and enjoy this special time with the ones you love. 

  1. Make time to attend your nutrition appointment. Ramping up your therapeutic support during a busy holiday week is always a good idea. This is NOT the time to cut your support back. Seeing your RD lends you the opportunity to prepare a structured/individualized meal plan that addresses your family’s unique foods and serving styles (buffet vs family style) so that you are prepared to handle either. Reviewing traditional foods, recipe ingredients, portion sizes and getting answers to the most popular question, “What do I count combination foods as” will ensure you meet your nutritional needs and will boost your self–confidence and enhance your mealtime experience. I promise, hearing the familiar reassuring words from your Dietitian that your plan is solid WILL reduce food fear stress and help keep you focused.
  2. Set Limits. If necessary have that conversation with a triggering family member AHEAD OF TIME that it is not okay to stare at what you are/or are not eating or discuss treatment, food or weight with you on this day. If you do not feel ready for this you may request an alternative family member to set the boundary for you.
  3. Identify a consistently supportive person in your life and ask them to be your “support buddy” at the holiday event. If this person will not be at the event, set up a plan to text or call this person when needed if you get stuck. Discussing your concerns ahead of time and identifying potential roadblocks and an action plan will help your support person remember in a pinch which skills to remind you of. Familiarity is key. You will feel comforted by knowing a plan with only you in mind was prepared and that there is a backup plan available should you feel things are going awry.
  4. Plan ahead activities you can do to distract yourself if necessary. Bring board games, arts and crafts, sidewalk chalk to do with the kids,  your cell phone or an iPod with earbuds to play relaxing music, or play a game from an app on your phone. You can also bring a football to toss around in the yard or watch the football game on TV. Focus on the kids or the family animals if possible. Kids and animals can be a helpful distraction from triggering adults. If possible, situate yourself at the table next to non-triggering individuals. Offer to sit at the kids table or next to your favorite grandma or aunt/uncle/cousin.
  5. Identify and or bring visual props.  If you have concerns about staying within a meal plan and you have a family who supports you ‘doing what you need to do’. I suggest ditching the meal plan and using a salad plate to put whatever foods you want on it and having that be your Thanksgiving plate. The chances of overeating or going way over on your meal plan are nil as the size of the plate itself makes overdoing it a near impossibility. Thanksgiving is a time of celebration and offers the opportunity to try new things. Try to not get too caught up on being exact with portions and allow yourself to sample new items and taste new flavors. It is OK to do this and I encourage you to challenge yourself- you might feel some emotional discomfort and perhaps also some joy in being able to try your beloved grandma’s sweet potato casserole that you haven’t been able to have since ED took this opportunity away from you. Bring Tupperware or plastic containers for food ‘takeaways’.  When a family member wants you to try what they brought it is rarely because they won’t be happy unless you gobble down a huge piece. They are more than likely just wanting acknowledgement for the effort they put in to the preparation and presentation of the food item and would likely be as satisfied if you stated something like, “Thank you very much for making this amazing pie. I can see you put a lot of effort and time into this but I am full right now. I would love the chance to bring some home with me to try when I have more room”.  This way you both win.
  6. Be Mindful and focus on Gratitude. There are many things to focus your attention on that are good about the holiday. Your body affords you the opportunity to hone in on many senses. Focus on the breath in your body, the ability to walk, see, hear, smell, touch and feel. The simple things that bring you joy-such as the dimple in the smile of a child, the smell of mom’s perfume, a warm cozy blanket, the ambiance in the room (candles and a warm fire). Do not miss out on the happy things-you may be surprised to know how many things you are grateful for!  
 
“Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your feeling. You CAN respond with wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.”
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
FREE DOWNLOAD- Steps to reducing thanksgiving fear & anxiety with an eating disorder
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