If your child has an eating disorder, then Thanksgiving may be the most stressful holiday of the year. The entire holiday is focused on food! Even the holiday’s mascot – a turkey – is food.
Also, Thanksgiving carries with it many food-based traditions, including talking about food endlessly and perpetuating harmful diet and weight myths. If we had to pick the worst day of the year for eating disorders, Thanksgiving is it! Think about many of our most common Thanskgiving traditions:
- Greeting family members by commenting on how much weight they have lost/gained
- Bragging about fasting before the meal to “save up”
- Pre-meal workouts to “make room”
- Talking about diets: I’m not eating carbs this year, these carbs are terrible for me, I guess my diet starts tomorrow!
- Discussing binge eating: I can’t help it – I have to keep going, I’m stuffed, my pants are too tight for this meal
- Post-meal exercise purges to “work off” what was eaten
- Restricting food after the meal to “make up” for what was eaten
If you have a child who has an eating disorder, they may be very uncomfortable with the conversations and behaviors that are typical of Thanksgiving.
Give your child the best tools to grow more confident, calm and resilient so they can feel better, fast!
- Calming strategies
Thanksgiving is a landmine for diet talk, but it’s also a great opportunity for family to share a meaningful day together. And since we know that being with people who love us is a great medicine for someone who has an eating disorder, we want to do what we can to make the holiday happen. The key is to focus on belonging and not food, eating, and weight.
If you take the day to honor and build connections with each other instead of focusing on the food, everyone wins! Here are five ways to take the focus away from food and build belonging and connection on Thanksgiving.
1. Get outside
An outdoor activity may help the whole family relieve holiday stress. Being in nature is very soothing, and it allows time for everyone to chat lightly about non-food topics. Choose an easy, relaxing hiking trail, or even a large park, beach or lake, that you can spend a few hours walking around. This is not a hike designed to burn off calories or work up an appetite. It’s a walk to connect with nature and with each other.
2. Play a game
Family game night is mostly a thing of the past or a very occasional activity, but Thanksgiving is a good day to pull out the Monopoly board, Uno cards, and other family games to provide a non-food-based activity. Get the whole family involved, and make sure the spirit around the game doesn’t become negative by keeping the focus on being together, not winning or losing.
3. Do some crafts
There are probably members in your family who will groan at this suggestion, but you may be surprised by the reaction if you actually pull out some craft supplies and get everyone working on a family art project. A Thanksgiving-themed craft project could be a lot of fun, and extra points if you can find a way to make a Gratitude Tree or other gratitude-based item that enables you to get some feel-good thoughts flowing through the house.
4. Volunteer together
There are many non-profit organizations that need support on Thanksgiving Day. The opportunities are endless. There are, of course, homeless shelters, food banks and food delivery services to the needy. This exposure to food and eating may or may not be a good idea based on your child’s eating disorder and current treatment plan. If it’s not a good fit, consider the many animal organizations that need volunteers on Thanksgiving. Animals need affection, water, food and a clean environment every day. Check out the many opportunities to volunteer in your area here.
5. Have a device-free day (or hour)
There is no question that as a society we have become increasingly dependent on our devices for entertainment. It will be difficult, but have everyone agree to put their devices (including smart phones, tablets and laptops) in a designated spot for the day, or at least a few hours. You may be surprised by what naturally occurs just by forcing people to find entertainment away from their screens.
Relax and enjoy
Having a child with an eating disorder is one of the hardest jobs any parent can face. Give yourself time to rest and relax during the holiday. You deserve to rest and feel loved and cared for, too. This will help you avoid burnout and gather strength for the task at hand.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to change the conversation about eating disorders and empower people to recover. She’s the founder of More-Love.org, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents supercharge their kid’s eating disorder recovery.
Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.
Ginny’s most recent project is Recovery, a newsletter for deeply feeling people in recovery from diet culture, negative body image, and eating disorders.