Conquering Thanksgiving with an Eating Disorder

For most people, Eatingsgiving is a time to chow down with your family from breakfast time into the night and talk about how thankful you are for all the good things in your life. However, people generally love this holiday solely because of the food. 


For people with an eating disorder, though, “chowing down” with your family can get complicated. Anyone dealing with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or other disorders like ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) and BED (Binge Eating Disorder), we have the burden of being constantly worried about how much or how little we eat, what we eat, how many calories we are consuming and how we are going to work it off after we eat, all while trying to do so without bringing more attention to ourselves. 


People with eating disorders are expected to face their biggest fear in the wake of Thanksgiving: eating. And not just eating but eating a sh*t ton all while in the company of your loved ones, which you may not have seen for months. Here are some definitions, information and resources we have pulled together that people with eating disorders may be especially thankful for.


Common Eating Disorders (ED)


  • Anorexia Nervosa 
    • Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a distorted body image and unwarranted fear of being overweight. This fear may result in undereating, starvation and compulsive exercise. 


  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorderdifferent than being a picky eater 
    • ARFID is an eating disorder not linked to body image. It involves limitations in the amount of food you eat and the types of food consumed. ARFID is characterized by a lack of interest in eating or food in general due to the concern of aversive consequences of consumption, such as choking, vomiting, gagging, having stomach aches, etc.


  • Binge-eating disorderdifferent than overeating
    • Binge Eating Disorder or BED is diagnosed as “frequently consuming unusually large amounts of food in one sitting and feeling that eating behavior is out of control.” BED is different than occasional overeating. BED usually occurs when an individual eats until they physically feel sick as frequently as one to many times in a single day. To be diagnosed, binge-eating must occur once a week for at least three months. BED is not like bulimia because it does not involve a purge in any way, shape or form. BED is not usually connected directly with body image, although it is often connected to feeling guilty or bad about one’s self after a binge.


  • Bulimia Nervosa
    • Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a distortion of body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which extreme overeating (or binge sessions) is followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, purging, fasting or excessive exercise.  


Coping mechanisms for all eating disorders:


  • Try Mechanical Eating (eating in the absence of hunger cues until the meal is completed).
  • Work on not judging the food you’re eating.
  • Use conversations to distract you from the food.
  • Remind yourself that Thanksgiving is about being thankful, not just about the food.
  • If you’re comfortable, tell someone what you’re dealing with so they can help you cope and be there for support.
  • Have a quick response in case someone mentions your appearance or how much/little you are eating. 
  • Don’t push yourself too hard; remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. This day is especially challenging, so take it easy.
  • Note what you’re feeling and why, the most significant and smallest challenges with your meal, and what “normal” portion sizes are. Take as much time as you personally need to eat. 


Coping Mechanisms for Specific Eating Disorders:


    • Eat what you like; if you can’t, then eat what you don’t like
    • Note the nutrients you are eating and note what you need to make sure your body gets all the nutrients! 
    • Remind yourself that it’s okay not to meet all your nutritional needs if you’re doing the best you can, even though this may seem weird to others
    • Note what fears you have about each food and why
    • Use inductive reasoning to explain to yourself how your fear may be irrational. This could help you cope with eating foods you may not enjoy 
    • Eat foods that will give you the most nutrition


  • BED
    • Know what your triggers are! These can be things like stress, socializing and even food
    • Safeguard your mental and physical health
    • Prepare for how to respond to remarks made by family members. Some things to be conscious of are remarks of how much food you’re eating and such
    • Work with your therapist or treatment team to discuss a meal plan for the day 


How to support someone with an Eating Disorder at Thanksgiving:


    • Expose them to different foods, but if they say no, then let it go


  • BED
    • Avoid making comments about their portion sizes
    • Help remind them what Thanksgiving is really about
    • Involve them in conversation because if you distract them from their plate, then they’re likely to eat slower, which will fill them up faster 


  • Relating to all EDs
    • Do not make any comments about their appearance or weight
    • Try not to talk about how much or how little food they are eating 
    • Don’t joke about your own weight or appearance
    • Remember, it is not your fault; take care of yourself and don’t blame yourself for their struggles. Make it clear that you are there if needed


Resources and Help:

  • Rehabilitation facilities in the area
    • The Emily Program 
      • Located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Woodbury, and Duluth
      • In-patient and out-patient programs
    • Melrose Center
      • Located in Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Bass Lake Park
      • In-patient and out-patient programs 
    • Gunderson Lutheran Eating Disorder Treatment Program
  • Resources on or around Winona State University campus 


Important Final Note: 

If you are not sure you or someone you know has an eating disorder, these coping mechanisms may still be useful. It is okay to reach out for help, and there is never anything to feel ashamed about!