Eating Disorder Recovery: How to Make Thanksgiving Safe for Your Teen

Managing Eating Disorders During Thanksgiving - Paradigm Treatment Centers

Eating disorder recovery is a long process that is made very difficult during Thanksgiving. It’s important to make the holidays safe for your teen recovering from eating disorders; here’s what you should know.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around food. It’s not that other holidays aren’t full of opportunities to indulge, but the primary activity for most Americans during Thanksgiving is cooking and then consuming a much larger than usual meal. This can be problematic for all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, but people in eating disorder recovery often experience particular hardships during this time.

Teens who are in recovery from eating disorders, who have only a limited ability to choose where they’ll spend the holiday and with whom, may be at particular risk during this very food-centered holiday. If your teen is going through eating disorder recovery, it’s your job to make sure that your teen is safe during this potentially triggering celebration. Take a look at some tips that can help you protect your recovering teen this Thanksgiving.

1. Don’t Put Your Teen on the Spot

Calling attention to what your teen is eating or not eating, or what their body looks like, can be upsetting and triggering, especially when you have a lot of people in attendance who may not know or understand exactly what your teen has been through. Allow your teen to choose what they’re going to eat, and refrain from making comments that could come across as judgmental, such as “why don’t you take more turkey?” or “are you going to eat all of those potatoes?”

You should also avoid commenting on your teen’s body. Even a seemingly innocuous comment, like “you look healthy!” could easily be misinterpreted, especially if your teen is under stress. If you feel like you must pay some type of compliment, tell your teen that you love their new shoes or way they styled their hair.

Of course, it’s easy to control the words that come out of your mouth, but what about the rest of your family? When it comes to people who are informed about your teen’s eating disorder recovery, you might consider quietly reminding them to avoid making comments about your teen’s eating habits and appearance. Be discreet – don’t do this in front of your teen or where everyone can hear. A low-key reminder should do the trick.

Don’t take it upon yourself to share your teen’s struggles with food with people who don’t already know about your teen’s experience. If your teen wants those people to know, they can handle that themselves. But do keep an eye – and ear – out for your teen during the festivities. If aunts and uncles start commenting on your teen’s plate or appearance during the meal or while they’re visiting, do your teen a favor and interrupt. Change the subject to something that doesn’t focus on your teen.

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2. Discourage Talk About Diets and Weight Loss

Perhaps it’s not surprising that during a holiday with a strong focus on food, people often talk about what they or others should or shouldn’t be doing in relation to food. Most people probably see these comments as harmless, especially when they’re referring to themselves. For instance,  some variations of this include:

  • “I’ll have to go on a diet after this meal”
  • “I really shouldn’t have another piece of cake – it’s going to add five pounds to my hips!”

These sentences can probably be heard at many Thanksgiving tables, and the people saying those things probably don’t mean any harm. But these comments can set back a teen who’s been making progress with an eating disorder.

Your best bet is to discourage these comments without making it about your teen. Let everyone know that the theme of this year’s Thanksgiving is a guilt-free meal. Respond to stray comments by letting relatives know that you’re trying to avoid negative messages about food generally and that you want everyone to feel comfortable and not self-conscious enjoying the celebration.

3. Initiate New Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be only about preparing and eating food. That is what a lot of Thanksgiving celebrations look like – and that’s fine if everyone is okay with it – but when you have a teen for whom eating a big meal surrounded by family is a fraught experience, you may want to consider incorporating other activities and downplaying the importance of the big meal.

Thanksgiving is a great day to celebrate everything your family is grateful for by giving back to your community or helping people who have less. If your teen is up for serving food instead of eating it, your local homeless shelter or community kitchen may be looking for volunteers to serve a holiday meal to the less fortunate.

Want to get away from food altogether?

  • Thanksgiving is a great time for a community coat and blanket drive, to benefit people who need help staying warm in the winter.
  • Or you could arrange a sports equipment swap meet with other parents from your teen’s school – this can help out kids who want to participate in upcoming winter sports, but whose families can’t afford to buy a lot of new equipment.

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Eating Disorder Recovery Tips During Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving can be a great day to get in some quality family time. Let everyone pick their favorite holiday movie and have a movie marathon. Break out the crafting supplies and put together a memory book full of highlights from the year or get a jump start on making personalized cards for the people on your Christmas card list. Find a place where you can go to pick pumpkins or gourds for artistic carvings or decorative displays.

Above all, talk to your teen before the big day and ask them how you can support them through this holiday. Your teenager might have their own ideas about what might be a hurdle this Thanksgiving and what will help them get through the holiday while staying on track with their eating disorder recovery. Really listen to what your teen has to say, and do your best to accommodate reasonable requests.

Your teen may be craving the company of family and the familiarity of favorite holiday foods or they may be dreading the holiday and might prefer to stay as far out of the limelight as possible. Make it your priority to give your teen what they need to have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.

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