If you are reading this, you are probably in recovery. (Or you mistook it for some Pro-Ana trash. Sorry, but read on anyway). All of my patients, whether they are suffering from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating or Obesity want to know what to do at Thanksgiving. Depending upon the disorder, there are very specific challenges. If you have food addictions, the holiday is triggering. If you restrict, you may be attacked with a spoonful of mashed potatoes by a well-meaning grandmother. If you purge, you may be trying to remember where the most remote bathroom is at your Aunt’s house in case you blow it.
I put out a call to action on Twitter and Facebook for questions/concerns about the holiday and here’s what I got:
Any ideas/coping skills to get through eating at a dinner table of 20 or more people? I have to eat in front of people, which I hate doing. I have bulimia. I feel like everyone is staring at me when I’m sitting there.
This is a very common feeling/reaction. There is a lot of shame associated with bulimia. The reality is that no one is paying attention to you and most people are worried about how people are seeing them. Try to focus on making the person next to you feel comfortable and it will make you feel more comfortable. Think of yourself as the helper and not the helpless, the therapist and not the patient.
I have been working really hard to kick my sugar habit. I’ve been stressing about how I am going to face the dessert buffet. There are certain desserts that are “family” recipes that we have every year. I just know that sugar is a very slippery slope for me. I don’t want to start back down that road. Is there a polite way to say no thanks?
I think that you can legitimately say that you are allergic to processed sugar. That’s one way. You could also say, “that looks delicious but I promised myself no dessert.” You could also say you worry about your blood sugar levels and you promised yourself no dessert. (I wouldn’t comment on the fact that you only allow yourself to eat “good sugar.” This can be misconstrued.)
This is going to sound crazy, but then again we’re talking about my family, so here goes: I cannot eat gluten. About three quarters of my family gets it, but inevitably, the preparer of most of the food (my mother) makes everything with all kinds of gluten. I’ve politely suggested adaptions that are easy but she claims she cannot do it. It won’t turn out right. I’ve kind of just given up. Is it rude to just bring my own food?
Absolutely not! If you are gluten intolerant it is your responsibility to take care of your gut and lead by example. Avoiding gluten is absolutely critical. I say, bring your own food!
My question is totally not related to food at all but has more to do with family- when a certain member of the family starts talking politics it gets really uncomfortable because obviously not everyone shares the same feelings on a lot of hot button topics right now (i.e. syrian refugees, presidential candidates, conspiracy theories.) Do you have any advice? I hate having to sit and listen without being able to challenge the person’s point of view, but at the same time, I know better than to engage. Thoughts?
I’d get real behavioral on this person. Nod when you like what the person is saying, make eye contact and smile. Give no response, not even a nervous smile, and make no eye contact if you don’t like what the person is saying. Look at your plate. Then get up. It’s time to go do the dishes. Eventually even an amoeba will learn to stop doing this at the table.
My daughter has been in therapy for anorexia for about six weeks. Any advice or words of wisdom?
Just remember that this is extremely anxiety provoking. Any focus on how she looks, what she is eating, what she is going to eat, or what she ate, just makes it worse. The biggest issue for the parent of the anorexic is dealing with their fear. Because the fear turns into anger in a flash. And your daughter can’t help that she is anorexic. It is a disease (of the mind.) Not a choice.
Finally, my holiday tips which have helped my patients over the years get through the holiday relatively unscathed.
- Get perspective. This is a holiday to celebrate survival. The pilgrims and the Indians came together to give thanks that they made it through another bitter winter and that they had enough food. So yes the focus is on food, and we have taken it to the extreme, but the real thanks is about how people, families and even members of different cultures/races work together to survive. This is a holiday that recognizes the importance of the family and the role that our grandparents and their grandparents played in our family history. Families are important, no matter how annoying they are.
So here is a tip: Understand that this is not about you, or your eating disorder. No one really cares how you look, they just want to make sure you are ok. Translated, that means that if you don’t want the focus to be on you, focus on the person next to you. Ask her/him questions. Think of yourself as a Jr. shrink or an investigative reporter. You will find that people love to talk about themselves and you have control of the conversation when you are the one asking the questions. (You like control, right?)
- Plan ahead when it comes to the food. If you know that there will be no food there that you can eat without getting triggered or sick, then take some of your own food. The safest thing to eat is turkey, especially the breast meat. Take a side dish to go with the turkey that you can share and you are all set. Try some sweet potatoes, that are prepared this way.
You can also take your favorite snack for before dinner. Popcorn that has coconut oil and sea salt on it is awesome and way better than the chips or pretzels dipped in who knows what. Or shrimp and cocktail sauce that you make yourself out of organic catsup and horseradish with a dash of Coconut Aminos. Yummy!
Take your own drink and if you are inspired, your own desert. Don’t feel like making desert? How about some organic gelato or ice cream? Cinnamon flavored ice cream is my personal favorite.
Worried about what people will think? Don’t. No one cares what you are eating. Worry more about them eating the delicious stuff that you bring. In fact, you may want to plan on sharing.
- Pace yourself. Use the days off to rest and pamper yourself. Get in an extra workout. Start a new book. Take a walk, before or after dinner. Organize a closet that has been driving you nuts, but don’t organize the whole house or spend days cooking by yourself. Take short cuts wherever and whenever you can. Hold a baby. Pet something.
Just remember, whether you are hosting or are a guest this Thursday, this holiday is about survival, adapting and gratitude. That first brutal winter, after the Mayflower arrived, most of the colonists remained on the ship where they suffered from outbreaks of contagious diseases and scurvy. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. And it was only because the Native Americans were willing to share their wisdom on how to survive in this new land that the pilgrims were able to survive.
You can see why my patients are such an inspiration, especially at this time of year. On they tread, to territory they don’t necessarily want to explore, and yet they know they have to. They must adapt, their lives depend on it. And as they move through recovery, I see them blossom as individuals and in relationship to their loved ones.