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 – to the point at which the main images of the holiday are all food items!
If you have a teenager who has binge eating disorder or bulimia, then he or she may be very uncomfortable with the excesses typically presented on Thanksgiving Day. It’s as if Thanksgiving is a national holiday on which everyone is encouraged to binge for the day.
If your child has anorexia or orthorexia, then it’s very possible that she or he is feeling a lot of stress about the types of foods that will be served. If they don’t fit their diet plan, then there is a lot of room for anxiety leading up to and throughout the holiday.
**However your child’s eating disorder expresses itself, please take some focused time before the holiday to work with his or her treatment team to ensure you are planning a holiday that aligns with the current treatment path. **
Regardless of what your family is facing right now, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time on which to focus on building family belonging and connection. If you take the day to honor and build connections with each other instead of focusing on the food, everyone wins!
Consider these 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.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.
She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.