Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings and relax, but for those struggling with an eating disorder, it can be a time of anxiety as triggers seem unavoidable with the focus on food and social gatherings. Knowing how to handle common pressures associated with the holidays can safeguard your mental and emotional health.
At Selah House, we use our nutrition group time to talk about strategies for managing holiday gatherings. Jessica Ward, Director of Therapeutic Services, gives an overview of what our clinicians emphasize for managing the holiday season:
- Make a plan. Work with your dietitian and therapist to create a plan that includes what you will eat, where you will eat, and with whom you will eat.
- Get support. Identify a support person and talk with them about your plan and specifically what they can do to support you such as:
- Help manage conversations and keep topics safe and not triggering (a support person can be helpful in starting or changing a conversation from triggering topics such as someone’s recent diet, to more neutral topics such as recent movies or vacation plans).
- Someone you can eat with and may be able to model portions from if needed.
- Participate in activities before and after the meal (play cards or other games) to take the emphasis off the food.
- Provide encouragement.
- Process after the event.
- Take a break. Create a strategy to take a break from the event if needed. Your support person may be helpful in providing an opportunity for you to get away from the “crowd” for a few minutes.
- Create an exit strategy. Work with your support person to create a plan for you leave the event gracefully when you have had enough.
- Recap your day. After the event, take some time to write down one thing you wish to improve in the future and one thing that went well. Share your list with your therapist and dietitian.
Thanksgiving at Selah House is a special time, and we celebrate the day with holiday-themed groups in the morning and the opportunity for visits or passes (if appropriate) with family in the afternoon. We will have a traditional Thanksgiving meal for dinner so our clients can practice normalizing a holiday meal and then have fun activities planned for the evening.
Try to find joy and satisfaction in the things around you and focus on being grateful; practicing gratitude can help to alter your perception of life and allow you to be a more positive person. Gratitude can give you back the happiness taken from you by your eating disorder.
These simple suggestions can help you practice gratitude::
- Make a gratitude list. Write down what you are grateful for – family, friends, shelter, or just life itself – and let it be a powerful tool in transforming a day that you might struggle into one for which you are thankful.
- Find opportunity in challenges. Challenges in life are often perceived as negative, but transforming them into a learning opportunity can give you a more positive mindset.
- Focus on what you do have. With the constant presence of social media, we often compare ourselves to others and the things we may be lacking. Remind yourself of what you do have and be grateful for and focus on these instead.
- Focus on positive affirmations. Eating disorders burden us with a weight of negativity, but by practicing gratitude, you can transform how you perceive and treat yourself. Focus on one thing you like about yourself and make that a positive affirmation.
Positively managing holiday strategies can help you know your limits and how to respect them. It is important to remember that there is more to Thanksgiving than just food. Practicing gratitude allows you to give freely of yourself with a positive attitude that will help to build patience, stay humble, and develop a grateful heart.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.