How to Support your Loved One with an Eating Disorder During Thanksgiving
For many, Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, family, and feasting. But for those struggling with their
relationship with food or their body, the holiday can be a minefield of emotions and challenges. Social
pressures to partake in meals can be overwhelming, navigating family dynamics, and the prevalence of
diet talk can exacerbate the challenges individuals may face.
Thanksgiving is typically a food-focused holiday, where indulging in food is emphasized and overeating is
commonplace and often difficult to avoid. This can be anxiety-inducing and triggering for the individuals
who are in eating disorder recovery or living with an eating disorder. However, families can play a crucial
role in providing support during this time, fostering an environment that is both understanding and
conducive to recovery.
Here are a few tips for family members spending Thanksgiving with a loved one who has an eating
disorder or a history of disordered eating:
Have Open Communication About Eating
Encourage open communication with your loved one. Create a safe space for them to express their
concerns and feelings about Thanksgiving. Be mindful of your language, avoiding any comments that
may be triggering or inadvertently contribute to feelings of guilt or shame. Additionally, talk about their
boundaries beforehand. If they feel their boundaries are being pushed, always let them leave the table
for a moment to clear their head.
Create a Non-Judgmental Environment
Acting judgmentally reinforces those feelings and can drive someone further into disordered eating,
with the added negative that they may withdraw from discussing it with you. Never say things like,
“You’re not eating enough” or “Don’t eat so much!” Try to refrain from talking about your weight and
especially their weight or body at the meal. If you are becoming concerned, save that conversation for a
less stressful time.
Collaborate on Meal Planning
If possible, involve them in the meal planning process. Collaborate on creating a menu that aligns with
their recovery goals while still allowing them to enjoy the holiday. Just being aware of what type of food
will be served at the gathering can also be helpful in making any adjustments to their meal plan.
Be Mindful of Triggers
Thanksgiving can involve discussions about food and body image. Be mindful of conversations that may
act as triggers and guide discussions toward positive, non-food-related topics. After Thanksgiving dinner,
some individuals might “get in their head” about the meal and their emotions concerning it. Help them
get their mind off those thoughts and feelings by planning an activity afterward. Try to find something
they like to do such as a board game or play cards, listen to music together, or take a refreshing walk in
the Autumn air. Most people experience some level of anxiety at holiday gatherings, so creating these
new traditions can help put everyone at ease.
Develop a Support System
Ensure that your loved one feels supported throughout the gathering. Familiarize yourself with the signs
of distress and have a plan in place to offer assistance if needed. This may involve having a private signal
or a designated family member to turn to for support.
Thanksgiving can be a joyous occasion for everyone, including those dealing with an eating disorder or in
recovery. By approaching the holiday with sensitivity, understanding, and proactive support, families can
contribute significantly to their loved one’s well-being.
Resource: Clementine House Houston