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5 Ways to Handle Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder

If a young person with an eating disorder will be at your Thanksgiving, click here.

For young people with an eating disorder, it’s common to feel worried or anxious about Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations. Not only is family coming together (which can be exciting, but also stressful), but the day is centered on making, eating and talking about food.

If you have an eating disorder and are anxious about Thanksgiving, you’re not alone. Here’s how you can make getting through the holiday easier, and hopefully even enjoyable.

1. Remember that Thanksgiving is a celebration

Make enjoying the day your number one priority. Instead of pressuring yourself to eat a certain way, concentrate on celebrating your family and loved ones. This does NOT mean that you should feel bad or confused if you’re not having the best time during the holiday. But it does mean that you deserve to be a part of the celebration.

2. Make a coping plan

Think ahead. What will help you get through the day and (hopefully) enjoy yourself? List out some coping mechanisms you can use if you feel anxious or triggered. Common coping skills include deep breathing, journaling or meditating, but you could also have a one-song solo dance party, go for a walk around the block, scream into a pillow, or check out some cute animal videos.

Are there particular times of the day that will be hard, such as right after the meal? Think of what you can do during those times to help you cope. Maybe you can go for a walk with a favorite cousin, busy yourself with the dishes, or volunteer to entertain the youngest members of your family.

3. Think about what and when to eat

On Thanksgiving, the promise of a huge meal often throws off people’s normal eating schedules. But it’s healthier (for everyone, but especially for people with eating disorders) to stick to regular meal times. Eat breakfast like you normally would and have an afternoon snack, at the very least.

In addition, get excited for the meal! What Thanksgiving foods are you especially excited for? Don’t worry about whether they’re “cheat” foods. Instead, let yourself enjoy them.

4. Create new traditions

Thanksgiving is traditionally food-centered, but it doesn’t have to be ONLY focused on mealtime. What new traditions can you start with your family that AREN’T focused on food? Lots of families watch football, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or the National Dog Show. You could also play a board game, go to the park, or do any other fun activity that doesn’t involve food.

5. Use your support network

Everyone experiences Thanksgiving differently and has different ways to cope. Talk to your therapist or other health care provider about your Thanksgiving plans. They can help you come up with the best plan for you. You can also talk to your friends and/or family about the best ways they can support you. Maybe your dad can ask your aunt to not comment on your body, or your cousin can change the subject if someone brings up dieting. If you’re not sure how to have those conversations with your family, your therapist or doctor can help.

If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC and think you may have an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food, you can make a completely free appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for comprehensive healthcare, including mental health services and nutrition support.

This article is adapted from this blog post by Lonna Gordon, MD, PharmD published November, 2016.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

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