Thanksgiving is right around the corner, meaning we will soon have an excuse to indulge in our favorite holiday foods. Many people eagerly look forward to this time of year, but for those struggling with eating disorders, food-centric holidays are likely to be sources of apprehension and anxiety. The fear of losing control over food consumption can trigger restrictive eating behaviors or a binge.
As someone who has experienced eating disorders on and off for many years, I understand the stress of being expected to eat large portions of food. I also know that being surrounded by family members who do not understand the complexity of mental disorders often makes the situation worse. I remember one particular Thanksgiving, when relatives asked me questions such as “don’t you eat anything?” and “so why aren’t you eating?” in addition to many unwarranted comments about my size. Although these questions came from a place of love, they made an already-difficult time even harder.
For those worried that a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, there are more tactful ways to phrase such questions. You should only approach the person if you are close with them. If you do ask about their eating habits, however, do so privately. Assure them that you are asking out of concern for their wellbeing, without sounding judgmental or jealous. Even a well-intended compliment might be misinterpreted in a harmful way. Remember that eating disorders do not happen by choice, and often require professional treatment. It is hard to watch someone struggle and feel unable to help, but mishandling such a sensitive issue can have dangerous consequences.
If you are struggling with eating disorders or habits, please be kind to yourself this Thanksgiving. You can and should enjoy your meal. It is okay to set boundaries with family members who make comments or jokes about your situation, and to tell them if it makes you uncomfortable. Furthermore, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Although eating disorders are stigmatized, as behavioral disorders usually are, don’t burden yourself more by suffering in silence. It is never easy to have an eating disorder, but Thanksgiving is especially challenging. However, remembering to be aware and thoughtful can make it much easier.
To contact the National Eating Disorder Association crisis hotline, text “NEDA” to 741741. Counseling services are located in the lower level of the Student Success Center. To schedule a screening appointment or therapy appointment, call 618-650-2842.