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How I'm Preparing for Thanksgiving in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Thanksgiving is around the corner and as someone in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s one of the most challenging days of the year.

Since I was a little girl, I have had distorted ideas of this holiday. From people around me not eating all day to “save up for the meal,” to gym commercials telling me how to “burn off the holiday bloat” — these things add up to create a complicated view of Thanksgiving.

As my eating disorder developed, the view became even more complicated. What was once a day filled with delicious food and family bonding became a day filled with guilt and fear. It became a day filled with calculations and compensation.

Last Thanksgiving, I relapsed. After eating a delicious Thanksgiving dinner and some amazing desserts, I went Black Friday shopping. One store had a great sale on jeans, so I decided to try a few pairs on. For many people, fitting rooms are a stressful place. For someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, the stress may be taken to another level.

To my dismay, I learned that my jeans size had gone up. After countless therapy sessions, I now know that the number on my clothing tag has no relation to my worth as a person. I also know that sizes fluctuating is completely normal.

However, in that moment, it was unbearable. Instead of seeing it as a “normal,” completely healthy turn of events, my disordered brain saw it as a personal failure. I didn’t have the skills I needed to handle the trigger in an effective way.

After several months of not engaging in food-related eating disorder behaviors, I spiraled down into a cycle of restriction that was very challenging to pull myself out of. While I’m now in a much better place thanks to my hard work in recovery, facing the anniversary of one year since relapse is scary and unsettling.

However, I am determined to make this Thanksgiving a day full of new memories and a day to be proud of.

With the help of some amazing people around me, I am preparing myself to the best I can to enter the day in as healthy of a way as possible. This past weekend, attending an eating disorder group session helped me find common ground with others, and both give and get support related to the the upcoming holiday. In addition, along with my therapist, I am creating a plan for the day so that I know I can stay on top of fueling my body and caring for my mind.

My Thanksgiving will likely look different than it looks for people who aren’t recovering from an eating disorder.

I’ll eat a planned breakfast and lunch prior to dinner with my family so that I can prevent slipping into old, dangerous behaviors. I will need to listen to my hunger and fullness cues more critically than a typical person might during Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll be viewing it as just another meal, not making it into something big and intimidating just because it’s Thanksgiving. And I’ll have a list of resources in case I need extra support.

While I’m sure I will spend some part of my day thinking about food and the feelings that come with it, my goal is to be as mindful and present as possible. I want to create new memories and positive associations around Thanksgiving so that next Thanksgiving, I can look back and say that I enjoyed the holiday, not that it created a large amount of anxiety for me.

This Thanksgiving will look like so much more than anxiety and meal exchanges on a plate.

This Thanksgiving will look like so much more than years of missing out on memories because of my eating disorder.

This Thanksgiving will look like so much more than guilt over something as necessary, valid and important as fueling my body.

This Thanksgiving will look like so much more than the anniversary of my relapse.

This Thanksgiving will look like recreating my perception of the holiday and allowing myself to fully experience and enjoy what Thanksgiving is meant to be —  a day full of positive memories, plenty of gratitude and lots of wonderful food.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Getty image via jacoblund

Originally published: November 20, 2017
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