Thanksgiving is in 2 days. And for the first time in years, that isn’t stressing me out.
Not because of all the prep work, all the cooking. Not because of the travel. Because the food.
Thanksgiving is in 2 days, and I’m not an anxious ball of nerves. I’m not dreading the meal, or the prep, or the clean up. Because for the first time in years, I trust myself around food.
I can remember the first Thanksgiving I was really in deep with the orthorexia. I was vegan at the time, and so after dutifully sponsoring a turkey through Farm Sanctuary (a truly incredible program, whether you’re vegan or not) I armed myself with determination and a big bowl of quinoa. “Q-stuff,” as it’s become known to my in-laws. And while Q-stuff is fine, it doesn’t generally entice hungry bellies that are ready for turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and pumpkin pie – all things that were decidedly not vegan, and therefore conveniently off limits. But I stuck to my new ways and was, in fact, so terrified of what would happen to my body if I dared to indulge in a slice of pie that I didn’t want it anyway.
Over the next few years, my self-inflicted rules began to change. My body had quickly rejected the strict restriction, and binges became the norm. And if there’s anything more terrifying for a binge eater than a buffet, it’s Thanksgiving. While I was eating a wider variety of foods, the permission still wasn’t convincing. I still had a lot of fears around food – what was it made with? How was it prepared? Would I be able to effectively “work it off”?
These thoughts consumed my holidays. And not just one or two days; all of the days leading up to it. I would be extra strict with my food and exercise so as to pay penance. To “earn” it.
The problem, of course, was that I would be so anxious about the whole thing that I could never enjoy the moment. I couldn’t enjoy the meal, and I certainly couldn’t enjoy the company. I would feel so guilty for what I was eating and, in turn, for not being “present” that I would self-sabotage. More than one Thanksgiving resulted in me sneaking extra helpings, extra dinner rolls, extra cookies, extra whipped cream when no one was looking. The shame only exacerbated the panic; I would tell myself that I better eat it all now because starting tomorrow – never again.
Needless to say, it was a very difficult cycle to break and led to more panic attacks than I’d like to remember. It’s taken a lot of work, but this year I am finally looking forward to the holidays. I’ve learned some tools and coping strategies that work for me, and I wanted to share them. These things are so helpful to know whether you’re struggling with disordered eating or love someone who is. They may not all resonate with everyone, and that’s okay. It’s trial and error. That’s okay too. The important thing is to handle yourself with patience and compassion, and trust that you’re doing the best you can. I firmly believe that the stress around food is more damaging than anything you eat.
Don’t restrict. This, ultimately, was the root of my years of feeling crazy around food. It’s a diet mentality, and it doesn’t work. Telling yourself that you can’t eat will only cause you to want it more. And also? It’s not natural. Your body is almost certainly going to be hungry before the 3 or 4:00 meal, and your attempt to “save calories” as a way to punish yourself will backfire. I know that if I let myself get too hungry, I’m almost guaranteed to overeat and get uncomfortable. It’s better to have a regular meal and/or snacks so that you don’t go into your Thanksgiving dinner ravenous.
Treat yoself. Make time for self care and really treat yourself to something special. You’ve got the day off work, so you might as well sleep in, take a bubble bath, give yourself a manicure or just sit around drinking coffee in your jammies. Dedicate some time to you and what makes you feel good. Indulging in something that has nothing to do with food will help ground you.
Peace out from negative talk. This goes for the negative chatter in your own head as well as the deprecating conversations that are so common around a big meal. Diet mentality and fat shaming are ridiculously prevalent in our society, and it’s become not only acceptable but expected to make offhand comments about the morality of our food. Someone will almost certainly say something about all the “naughty” ingredients in a recipe, ponder calorie counts, judge what they or someone else has eaten, or discuss how they will “make up for” their meal. Walk away. Refuse to participate. Play some Adele (my new favorite way to change the subject.) And remember that it does not have to be your truth.
Talk to someone. This was always so challenging for me. I wanted to put on the front that I had it all together, that everything was fine. And even when it clearly wasn’t, I was too ashamed to admit it. Eating disorders are extremely isolating by nature, and one of the ways to take your power back is to acknowledge you’re struggling. Identify someone who can give you a little extra support, or to check in with you. You don’t even have to divulge everything that’s going on; simply letting them know you’re having a tough day is enough. And if there’s no one in the family you’re comfortable sharing with, arrange a phone call with a friend before or after the meal (or both) to help you debrief.
Get out of the kitchen. This isn’t an excuse to skip out on clean up. But if you know that being around leftovers is triggering for you, there’s no need to put yourself in that position. Have a plan post-dinner, whether it’s a leisurely family walk, watching football, playing cards or wrangling the kids. Getting out of your head probably means getting out of the kitchen too.
Your food will be what it’s going to be. This piece of advice came from Isabel Foxen Duke, who truly changed the way I think about what I eat. Remembering that your food will be what it’s going to be takes away some of that need to control. Controlling only damaged my relationship with food; realizing instead that no amount of obsessing or planning in advance would necessarily change the food I ate helped me live more in the moment. It helped me to remember that I am a grown woman who can make my own choices about my food; I can eat what I want at any given moment.
Remember that it’s one day. It may sound trite, but it really is just one day. One meal. Keep it in perspective and focus only on that. Don’t fall into the diet trap – you do not need to cleanse, detox or repent from your food choices. Eat what makes you feel good. Diet shaming will be everywhere, right alongside the festive food made with love. It’s okay to savor the food instead.