Thanksgiving – An Opportunity to be Thankful, Grateful and Mindful
By Kristine Bott M.S., R.D.N.
For many people, Thanksgiving marks the “kickoff” to the holiday season and is a welcomed time that allows us more focused time to be with the ones we love and to reflect on the traditions and memories we have come to know and cherish. Unfortunately, for individuals who struggle with disordered eating, the holiday season can be not much more than a time of heightened anxiety and stress. With Thanksgiving being only a few short days away, I wanted to provide you with a few of my thoughts that just may make the fear and anxiety you may be feeling a little bit less and help you enjoy your holiday season in a healthy and happy way.
- Make time to attend your nutrition appointment. Ramping up your therapeutic support during a busy holiday week is always a good idea. This is NOT the time to cut your support back. Seeing your RD lends you the opportunity to prepare a structured/individualized meal plan that addresses your family’s unique foods and serving styles (buffet vs family style) so that you are prepared to handle either. Reviewing traditional foods, recipe ingredients, portion sizes and getting answers to the most popular question “What do I count combination foods as” will ensure you meet your nutritional needs and will boost your self–confidence which will enhance your mealtime experience. I promise, hearing the familiar reassuring words from your Dietitian that your plan is solid WILL reduce food fear stress and help keep you focused.
- Set Limits. If necessary have that conversation with a triggering family member AHEAD OF TIME that it is not okay to stare at what you are/or are not eating or discuss treatment, food or weight with you on this day. If you do not feel ready for this you may request an alternative family member to set the boundary for you.
- Identify a consistently supportive person in your life and ask them to be your “support buddy” at the holiday event. If this person will not be at the event, set up a plan to text or call this person when needed if you get stuck. Discussing your concerns ahead of time and identifying potential roadblocks and an action plan will help your support person remember which skills to remind you of. Familiarity is key. You will feel comforted by knowing a plan with only you in mind was prepared and there is a backup plan readily available when you feel things are going awry.
- Plan ahead activities you can do to distract yourself if necessary. Bring board games, arts and crafts, sidewalk chalk to do with the kids. Bring your cell phone or an iPod with ear buds to play relaxing music or play a game app on your phone. Bring a football to toss around in the yard or watch the football game on TV. Focus on the kids or the family animals if possible. Kids and animals can be a helpful distraction from triggering adults. If possible, situate yourself at the table next to non-triggering individuals. Offer to sit at the kids table or next to your favorite grandma or aunt/uncle/cousin.
- Identify and or bring visual props. If you have concerns about staying within the meal plan and you have a family who supports you “doing what you need to do”. I suggest ditching the meal plan and using a salad plate to put whatever foods you want on it and having that be your Thanksgiving plate. The chances of overeating or going way over on your meal plan are nil as the size of the plate itself makes overdoing it a near impossibility. Thanksgiving is a time of celebration and offers the opportunity to try new things. Try to not get too caught up on being exact with portions and allow yourself to sample new items and taste new flavors. It is OK to do this and I encourage you to challenge yourself- you might feel some emotional discomfort but perhaps also some joy in being able to try your beloved grandma’s sweet potato casserole that you haven’t been able to have since the ED took this opportunity away from you. Bring Tupperware or plastic containers for food “take aways”. When a family member wants you to try what they brought it is rarely because they won’t be happy unless you gobble down a huge piece. They are more than likely just wanting acknowledgement for the effort they put in to the preparation and presentation of the food item and would likely be as satisfied if you stated something like “Thank-you very much for making this amazing pie. I can see you put a lot of effort and time into this but I am full right now. I would love the chance to bring some home with me to try when I have more room”. This way you both win.
- Be Mindful and focus on Gratitude. There are many things to focus your attention on that are good about the holiday. Your body affords you the opportunity to hone in on many senses. Focus on the breath in your body, the ability to walk, see, hear, smell, touch and feel. The simple things that bring you joy-such as the dimple in the smile of a child, the smell of mom’s perfume, a warm cozy blanket, the ambiance in the room (candles and a warm fire). Do not miss out on the happy things-you may be surprised to know how many things you are grateful for! In the words of Bhante Henepola Gunaratana:
Mindfulness gives you time.
Time gives you choices.
Choices skillfully made, lead
to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your
feeling. You CAN respond with
wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.
Yes, there will be a lot of food around but breaking these foods down into their simple parts; it’s really the same foods I encourage you to eat each week. Turkey is just turkey, potatoes are just potatoes and green beans are the same green beans we add to your meal plan during an average day. It will all be ok. I will be thinking about you, be safe and stay strong and take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. I, and the staff at A New Beginning /TheHealthyWeighOut, wish you a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!