Surviving the Thanksgiving Table

Thursday, Nov 18  •  


It is that time of year again, the time where family and friends gather around the dinner table to eat delicious food, enjoy each other’s company, and revisit memories from the year. For those with an eating disorder, this can be a difficult task. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or are in the middle of recovery, it’s okay to not feel excited about Thanksgiving. You are not alone and we’re here to share some tips to help you survive the Thanksgiving dinner table.

It’s okay to merely survive. This Thanksgiving meal is one meal, one of over a thousand you’ll have each year. Cultural hype and tradition build it up, but your body expects as much from it as from any meal before or after it. You’ll extract nutrients from it just as you do from meals on January 1st, the Fourth of July, and a random Monday in May. You don’t need to “make room” for Thanksgiving dinner by skipping breakfast. You don’t need to “save” or “earn” calories or swap carbs for “healthy” alternatives.

Cut through the noise. There is room for green bean casserole, stuffing, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, in your meal plan. There is room for old favorites and new additions—all foods fit. If you have a treatment team, allow them to show you how your Thanksgiving menu satisfies your specific needs. If you do not, it may be time to ask for help. With the right help, holidays can be easier to navigate. 

As you plan your plate, plan responses to any comments about food, bodies, or your recovery as well. Prepare a reply to the usual holiday talk 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.”
  • “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 your Mom can reiterate the table rules if the discussion drifts toward diet, or a sibling can offer her review of this year’s Macy’s parade if the conversation heads in a dangerous direction.

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 niece or nephew color the turkey in the newspaper or your sister complete her holiday wish list. You could walk your dog. You could watch football or A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or a movie that brings you joy. Perhaps you could fill your ears with motivating songs or thumb to the chapter of your favorite book and pull out that card your best friend sent last month. There is no shame in stepping away to practice activities that allow you to focus on yourself and fulfill your personal needs.

Please know that you are remarkable in your resiliency and courage in 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 fighting for holidays to come.

If your eating disorder is interfering with your meals—holiday or otherwise—we hope you’ll reach out for help. Avalon Hills provides specialized eating disorder treatment for all types of eating disorders. Please call us at 866-954-0723 to learn more!