What I Want My Family to Know About Having Anorexia on Thanksgiving
As the first few weeks of November go by, my anxiety has been getting worse. I keep asking myself why? What’s so different? Then I remember — Thanksgiving isn’t far away.
For many people, Thanksgiving brings pleasant memories: warmth, laughter, sharing, seeing family you haven’t seen all year and of course, stuffing your face to your stomach’s content. But when you have anorexia like me, Thanksgiving can be the most dreaded day of the year.
To my family sitting around our Thanksgiving dinner table, let me try to explain what’s going through my mind.
When I think of Thanksgiving I don’t think about positive things. I don’t have any excitement. I feel dread, anxiety, distress, depression, shame, guilt and fear.
I’m not thinking about family time. I’m not thinking about the people I’ve missed. I’m not even thinking about what I’m grateful for. There’s one thing on my mind and one thing only: I am going to get fat.
This fear is so dominating it keeps me from enjoying anything about this joyous holiday. I’m physically there, but mentally I’m gone. I’ve entered the world of numbers and my brain becomes a human calculator. My anxiety has gone from one to 100 just by walking into that room, let alone choosing what I’m going to put on my plate.
When we all sit down at the table, people are talking, laughing and sharing stories. I feel like a shell of a human being. Anorexia is yelling at me the entire time. It’s like putting your headphones on and listening to a record on repeat — except this record isn’t nice. It’s screaming, “You don’t deserve to eat. You’re fat. You’re a failure. You’re disgusting. You’re unloveable. Everyone is staring at how much fatter you are than last year. Everyone will judge you if you eat. You’re ugly. You’re stupid…”
That’s why I’m asking this year for my friends and family to please be patient. It takes courage and strength to sit at that dinner table. Here are some things you can do to make it a little easier:
1. Don’t comment on my looks.
Even comments like “you look good” or “you look healthy” can be extremely triggering. It’s best to avoid appearance-oriented conversations all together.
2. Don’t comment on what I have on my plate or how much.
People in treatment are sometimes on a meal plan and will base their meals off those guidelines. Bringing attention to portion sizes may raise my anxiety and increase eating disorder urges and behaviors.
3. Don’t discuss your own thoughts or worries about eating.
Making comments about calories/fat in food, talking about diets or discussing exercise plans can encourage eating disorder thoughts and worries. It also sends the message that being full is not acceptable.
4. Please don’t watch me eat.
I’m already uncomfortable and self-conscious — this will make it worse.
5. Do enjoy the food and model healthy eating behaviors.
This includes not “fasting” to get ready for the meal and including a variety of food on your plate if you can.
6. Tell me how happy you are to see me.
It could be exactly what I need to hear.
7. Plan other activities to do as a family.
Distractions before and after the meal are very helpful.
8. Have normal conversations that don’t include talking about therapy and treatment.
I want to be at that table. I want to spend time with you. The best I can do is just get through it, breathe and remember it’s just one day. I will survive. This eating disorder will not define me or beat me.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorder confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237.