For those who suffer with an eating disorder, Thanksgiving can be one of the more difficult holidays to participate in with family and loved ones. This is a classic example of what an ED does to a person’s life: it prevents one from participating in life. A holiday such as Thanksgiving is meant to be spent with those closest to you giving thanks and blessings for what one has in their life, including the basics of food, shelter, clothing, a job, a chance for education, friends, family, loved ones, and a sense of security. In developed countries, many of these things may be found in abundance, while others strive to obtain what they need. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and appreciate the things we have and maybe think about giving back to those in need.
However, Thanksgiving Day itself, can be stressful to those with an eating disorder. After all, the get togethers with loved ones is often focused on food, which for many is a day to look forward to, but for those with an eating disorder is a day that one would like to avoid. Every year I see patients becoming anxious and panicky as the day approaches and try to plan a way to minimize or completely avoid the experience. I have long discussed with my patients how one of the purposes of an eating disorder is to prevent them from participating in life. This is one of those examples. ED thoughts often want patients to not participate in the holiday. To try and isolate, become quiet, or not attend the day’s event. To banish any possible thoughts about blessings or to resist joining the guest in a festive mood. To not eat what is served in order to not violate ED’s rules. And in the end, feel as it was a day of mourning as opposed to a day of giving thanks and celebration. A day to avoid participating in life like the rest of society.
For some patients who are in a place of some recovery, I ask that ED not be invited into the home in the head of one with an eating disorder that day. That Thanksgiving is not a day about food per se, but about spending time together and sharing a meal as one. It’s about participating in life with the ones you love. It’s about not allowing ED to take this away, as ED so wants to do. It’s about a fight with ED to be a part of the day and allowing oneself to feel a sense of belonging again. Tomorrow will come and the fight will continue, but let Thanksgiving be one of those days where you are a part of life. Always my best to all, Dr. DeSarbo.