9 tips for surviving Thanksgiving while maintaining recovery from an eating disorder

By Jenny Westberg, Portland Mental Health Examiner

Most people find holidays stressful, but for people recovering from eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and eating disorder “not otherwise specified” (NOS), a big, festive, family dinner can be utterly terrifying. But you can get through it, recovery intact. Here are some tips to survive and thrive through Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, and other holiday feasts – while staying in recovery.

  1. First, and most of all, every day of the year, your recovery comes first.
  2. Holiday traditions should be about family and relationships, not just food and eating. Introduce a non-food activity this year, and start creating new traditions! How about a pre-dinner walk to the park, a game of “Monopoly” or “Clue,” or a drive through the neighborhood to check out the Christmas lights? You can think of many more.
  3. Don’t skip meals, restrict or diet in the days leading up to a holiday, or cut back afterwards. It’s one day. Don’t let it throw you off track.
  4. Talk to other family members in advance about not pushing food, or commenting on diets, calories, or weight loss. Even too much emphasis on making healthy choices at holiday meals can add to the stress. If a triggering subject comes up, supportive family members can change the subject – fast.
  5. Resist the temptation to take over in the kitchen, making a sumptuous feast for everyone but you. Bonus: It may be easier not to obsess over calories if you don’t know exactly what went into each dish.
  6. However, do enlist supportive family members to keep the variety of dishes reasonable, and minimize food that is left out for grabbing and snacking.
  7. Remember, feeling full does not mean you overate or gained. Also remember “fat” is not a feeling. If you find yourself saying, “I feel fat,” ask yourself what you’re actually feeling (sad? angry? frustrated?)
  8. When you get through the big day (you will!) give yourself a big cheer. You did it! Keep on working on your recovery, and celebrate each day…
  9. …remembering always, every single day, your recovery comes first.

* Adapted from “Negotiating Holiday Eating” on the Eating Disorders Blogs website.

More Ideas for Getting Through Holiday Meals

Twelve Ideas to Help Women with Eating Disorders Negotiate Thanksgiving and Christmas (by the Center for Change)

Don’t Let Perfection Spoil the Party (by Aetna InteliHealth)

Eating Disorders and the Holidays (on Mirror Mirror)


…And the Best Website On Eating Disorders and Recovery

Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders

Something Fishy also has a support forum, the Remember It Hurts Community