3 Tips to Navigate Thanksgiving While Struggling with Food and Body

Thanksgiving can be one of the most challenging holidays for folks struggling with their relationship to food and their bodies.

Between complex family relationships, a layered and vulnerable relationship with your body and food and a seemingly boundless feast filling your field of vision, it’s no wonder why the thought of the day can insight anxiety (dare I say dread?!).

And to top it off, for many women struggling with binge eating, this is just the beginning of a long, quite possibly painful holiday season. 

Interactions with triggering family members. Trying to manage social anxiety in the face of all. the. parties. Doing alllll the things for allll the people. Somehow, year after year, falling into that role in your family... you know, the one you’ve done so much work to break free from. Did I mention desserts and comfort foods that elicit a feelings of relief, escape, and even nostalgia at every turn?

So, wIth T-Day rapidly approaching, let’s talk about a few ways to batten down the hatches and prepare to really take care of yourself

And hopefully, to make it through the first part of the holiday season with a bit more ease than in years past.

1. Set your boundaries. 

Think about last year and how things felt. Did you sister-in-law push alllll your buttons as she talked about how easy her keto diet has been and how if you just focused a little bit more….? Did your mother comment on the size of your body and her hope that next year, you really focus on getting healthy? Did you proclaim that you’ll be skipping dessert this year, in hope that you’d avoid an epically uncomfortable food hangover, or to pre-empt the concerned looks or glances steeped in judgment?

It’s important to remember that we are responsible to teach others how to treat us. 

The more we allow food and body comments (parenting tips, how to find a partner, insert that triggering topic here!) the more people will think it’s ok to be part of the peanut gallery and chime in.

Instead of anxiously awaiting that first comment, draw your line in the sand. What are you willing and unwilling to discuss? Would your day have more ease if food and body simply weren’t on the table?

Instead of proclaiming that you’ll start your diet tomorrow, that you’re avoiding carbs, and white meat only please! try a different tactic.

Ahead of time, tell your family that this year, you’d appreciate it if they don’t make food and body comments. And, come up with some stock responses in case food and body are a topic of conversation (unfortunately this is a likely situation. But, you have the opportunity to set the tone for a new normal).

Some examples are:

  • “You know Mom, I’ve decided that this year I’m just not going to talk about my body.”

  • “It makes me feel sad to think about all the years I’ve spent hating my body. This year, I’ve decided to focus on things in my life that I enjoy and that I'm excited about.”

  • “I appreciate that you love your new diet, but I’d love to hear more about what else is going on in your world! Tell me more about...”

  • “You know, I’ve really struggled with food for a long time. Continuing to talk about what I should and shouldn’t eat is only keeping me stuck.”

If your family, or that family member (we've all got one!!) is struggling to honor your boundary, circle back and reclarify. Use a feeling statement, like…

  • “When you make comments about my body I feel a huge sense of shame. Instead of continuing to make these comments, I need you to focus on other things.”

            (When you… I feel… I need you to…)

Don’t get me wrong, this is be easier said than done, but by setting and holding your boundaries, you’re taking an active role in protecting your energy and your emotions. And, you’re owning a 2.0 version of your own voice. One that has your own back first.

One last thing, but a majorly important thing, on boundaries… if this holiday drains the life out of you and leaves in a puddle of despair, it’s ok to opt out. To create a day that will feed you energetically and emotionally instead of drain you. 

You are not required to sacrifice your emotional health for a holiday.

2. Act in opposition of that annoying voice in your head telling you that you need to restrict starting like, yesterday.

So many people focus all of their energy pre and post T-Day on what, how much and how often they’re eating. They cut out sweets, save calories or try to drop a few pounds in preparation. Or plan a Whole30 (enter extreme plan here) to make it through the season unscathed.

Y’all, this is a psychological set-up for those of us struggling with food and body.

It’s paving the path for for a day, maybe days, of feeling out of control around food.

Remember, the more you invest in trying to control the food, the more control the food actually has over you.

If you’re struggling with yo-yo dieting or binge eating, now is not the time to dive back in.

Instead, give yourself some structure. Plan to eat 3 meal and 2 snack a day. Give yourself even a smidge of permission to eat things that satisfy you. Give yourself permission to enter the holiday well-fed, with even a little bit less food scarcity and deprivation than in years past, and you’ll see subtle shifts in the your behave around food.

3. On Thanksgiving eat what you love and forgive yourself if you end up overly full.

Eat what you’re craving. Eat what fills you with warm fuzzy nostalgic feelings. Eat what is going to bring you joy and connect you to tradition and the people who are important to you.

And do it unapologetically.

Remove the “I’m so bad for eating xyz” from your speech. You’re not a bad person for consuming food. You are simply a person. 

You’re allowed to eat what you love, despite what your dieting minds tell you

I think it’s important to add that just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Trust that your Aunt can handle it if you don’t eat the casserole or pie that she prepares every year because she *thinks* you love it.

Focus on what will serve you, your mouth and your body, not what will serve the rest of the crowd (boundaries for the winnnnnnn). 

Lastly, but maybe most importantly, remember that being overly full is a part of the human experience. It’s a part of normal eating. Because normal eating is flexible and forgiving. It’s being in the experience and allowing yourself to move on to the next moment, hour or day without falling into a spiral of shame and convincing yourself that you need to make up for it. 

Forgiveness takes effort, because it’s a new way of engaging with yourself, but it really is a way out of shame.

Start here, and I’ll be following up in the coming weeks with more tips! 

Before you head out, tell me what the hardest part about Thanksgiving is for you?

How can you use one of these 3 tips to move the dial even just a little bit?