Advice for parents facing Thanksgiving with a child who is in recovery from Anorexia Nervosa – by Tracy Brown, RD

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for everyone. As much as we love getting together for the holiday, the combination of family members, friends and food can trigger anxiety and stress. If you have a child who is currently being treated for anorexia, then it is likely that this particular holiday is causing you even more stress than usual.

Here are some ideas to help you prepare for this food-centered holiday with your child who has anorexia:

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead as much as possible to make sure that your child is able to peacefully eat all meals and snacks during Thanksgiving. If you are going elsewhere for the meal, ask the host for the meal plan, including what will be served and when, so that you can make the necessary arrangements.

Don’t “Save Up”

Stick to the meal plan rather than thinking that your child can “save up” for a big feast. Saving up food for a bigger meal puts a lot of pressure on that meal and the child may not be ready for a very large meal.

tracy-thanksgiving-2Look Beyond the Food

We don’t have to make the food the star of Thanksgiving. In fact, Thanksgiving can be a great opportunity to remember that no food is “good” or “bad.” That food is healthy and natural when it’s treated with respect.

Talk to Guests if Possible

If at all possible, speak to anyone who will be at Thanksgiving dinner about your child’s eating disorder in advance. Ask them to please refrain from diet talk that often comes from people knowing that they are going to be eating a big meal. These comments are totally normal in our society, unfortunately diet talk is seen as normal conversation ” but is toxic for most people, especially those in recovery.

Take the Year off if you Need to

If traveling to others’ homes is just too potentially dangerous to your child’s recovery, consider that a big Thanksgiving dinner may not be the best medicine this year. Work with your child’s treatment team to determine how best to address this.

Game Day

Whatever happens, on Thanksgiving Day itself, pay attention to his or her cues of anxiety and distress. Plan for moments away from the crowd in which you can connect with your child and check how he or she is feeling. If anxiety levels get too high, support your child by taking a break together. You can go for a short walk or sit away from everyone else for a little while. Parents can also take charge and change the subject if someone starts a conversation towards diet talk or body bashing; your child will appreciate you going to bat and protecting them.


tracy brown rd eating disordersTracy Brown, RD, is a nutrition therapist, registered licensed dietitian and attuned eating coach. She established her private practice in 2006 in in both north and central Florida and now in Naples, FL. . She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating in children, teens and adults. She teaches Intuitive Eating and works with people in person, individually and in in groups, online and via phone. Website

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