Eating Disorder Recovery and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, family, and celebration, yet for someone recovering from an eating disorder it is more complex.  It is a time of joy, but not without anxiety, guilt, and triggers.  As someone recovering from bulimia, holidays are always difficult, but Thanksgiving specifically revolves around food, making it especially stressful.

While the premise that Thanksgiving was founded on was gratitude, the holiday has become more about food than anything else.  People make turkeys, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie all to show that they are thankful for what they have.  It is expected that guests at Thanksgiving eat because somehow our society has equated feasting with showing gratitude.  Conversely, for people with eating disorders, food can provoke anxiety, guilt, or shame.  This poses a problem; if they do not eat, their family will not only think they have a problem, but also that they are ungrateful.  Obviously that is too much pressure for someone who struggles with food and body image on an average day.  This could lead to panic attacks, use of behaviors, and possibly relapse.

This Thanksgiving is particularly going to be challenging for me as it is the first time I am in recovery.  For the past few years, I was in the depths of my eating disorder, and although I was afraid of food, I could either avoid it or use compensatory behaviors for the next few days.  This year, however, I am following a meal plan, only exercising moderately, and avoiding disordered thoughts and behaviors towards food and my body.  One misguided body comment or food-related remark can send me on a downward spiral.  After spending six weeks in a partial hospitalization program last year, I am terrified of regressing.  I am terrified that someone will ask if I gained or lost weight at college, comment on my food intake, or discuss diets because I am not in the most stable stage in my recovery.

I am not ungrateful just because I am afraid of food.  I realize that I am privileged to have food, family, and access to treatment for my eating disorder, but that does not diminish my fear surrounding the holidays.


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