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5 Tips for Thanksgiving When an Eating Disorder Is at the Table

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Running an organization called F.E.A.S.T. should make Thanksgiving a pleasant theme, but the third Thursday in November is no holiday for eating disorders, or the families supporting a loved one through treatment.

Imagine you or a loved one has an illness where treatment is more painful and more obvious in the presence of large family gatherings and communal meals? Imagine a fragile family sitting down to an exaggerated expectation of family harmony and pleasure.

There are plenty of tips out there on how to manage Thanksgiving -- the planning, the serving, the leftovers -- but few for families who know that everything about the tradition of Thanksgiving feasting will be tense and difficult for a loved one. Between odd mealtimes, body conscious talk, and alternating binging and guilt -- this is a holiday for which "Black Friday" has a singular meaning.

What did our family learn about holidays and eating disorders? Some tips:

  1. It's just a day. A day that only has the power we give it.
  2. Holidays are not a performance. No one is being graded.
  3. Don't give "ED" a holiday: Stick with the treatment plan. Staying with the structure the patient needs is just as important, perhaps MORE important, when routines change. Any reason to delay or alter necessary measures is comfort to ED.
  4. Traditions are there to be pleasant, not to lock the family into routines that cause pain. If your usual routine will strain family members in a difficult time, let them go for a year -- or for good. If a large gathering or particular relatives will cause more stress than they relieve, treat the eating disorder as you would any serious illness and have a normal meal at home.
  5. Thanksgiving comes every 365 days, and with good treatment and your family's support this coming year is a unique opportunity to show what family really stands for. Set your sights on celebrating together next Thanksgiving with gratitude for full health and the power of family.