To Anyone Afraid to Eat Thanksgiving Dinner

I know holidays are supposed to be fun, enjoyable and meaningful. Thanksgiving especially is a time for coming together with your family and being grateful.

But Thanksgiving can be hard. I get it.

When you have an eating disorder like me, and maybe like you, Thanksgiving can be stressful and truly unpleasant. But when you have an eating disorder, Thanksgiving can also be a source of comfort, connection and family support. I know, I know. It seems contradictory — but life is messy like that. That’s what makes it hard. I know everything seems so black and white, and maybe you even prefer that, but today is not the day to exist in absolutes.

Thanksgiving can be so many things at once. It’s knowing it’ll be hard. It’s feeling pressure to be happy. It’s expecting it to be difficult and then finding yourself unexpectedly happy. With all that in mind, I want to talk to you about Thanksgiving and then I want to talk to you about life.

Let’s start with Thanksgiving. I tend to get bogged down around Thanksgiving with a lot of feelings about what I should do. Here’s something I want you to remember: your priority this week is keeping yourself safe and healthy. This might sound selfish or self-absorbed, but I can promise you’ll be giving a far bigger gift to your family and friends by taking care of yourself.

It’s OK to show up a little late or leave a little bit early if it means lowering your stress levels. If there’s someone in your family who’s supportive, talk to them ahead of time. Ask them to check in on you a few times during the day. It usually helps me to be with someone post-meal and post-gathering. I also strongly support finding an escape route: if there’s a room you can go read in for 30 minutes, a dog to take for a walk or somewhere else you can go to decompress, give yourself permission to take advantage.

I personally find it helpful to remind myself it’s just one day, just one meal. Even if it’s awful, it’ll be over soon enough. I aim to treat it like any other meal. I’ve eaten hundreds before and I can make it through this one.

Of course, these are strategies you’ll work out for yourself. What works for me won’t always work for you, and you’ll find some things that work for you no one else has suggested. But if there’s one thing I know about people with eating disorders, it’s that they tend to be damn tough. You’ve survived things most people can’t imagine. Thanksgiving ain’t got nothing on you.

And that was the easy part.

Now I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to do what recovery demands: thrive.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be about thankfulness, and it’s easy to forget what brings us joy when we don’t take time to stop and think about it. So truly ask yourself: what are the things in my life that I love? What are the things that make me want to stick around?

I’ll start.

It took me by surprise when I realized I had a circle of friends who didn’t care if I was a mopey, depressed party pooper. They wanted me around anyway. And when I was around them, I would actually begin to feel happy. When my brain gets particularly nasty, I can ask one of them to remind me what’s good about me. I can ask them to distract me or just with me. My friends are easy to be grateful for. They’re easy to live for. I do feel happy, even if it’s just sometimes.

Some days I live for my cat. Or my boyfriend, who makes me laugh. Some days that’s enough.

If you can use this Thanksgiving for anything, use it for finding your motivation again. What do you love in this world more than your eating disorder? Focus on that instead of food, at least for a little bit. If you can find one moment of wanting life more, that’s a win. Think about what will make you grateful next year, the things that will get you through.

I want you to know there’s someone in your corner. There’s someone out there who’s thinking of you, who’s grateful for the spark of you that’s still going and still trying. I’m thankful for all of my fellow survivors. I want you to keep surviving.

I hope you can be strong through a hard time, and also use this time of togetherness to draw strength.

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