As an individual who struggled with anorexia for three years, then a combination of anorexia and bulimia as I tried to recover near the end of those three years, I missed out on three Thanksgiving feasts that I used to indulge in before my eating disorder kicked in.
I still remember the anxiety I had in the weeks prior to, and mostly on the day of, Thanksgiving. I remember being afraid of the food that I knew would be offered there, afraid the things my family would say, afraid that I'd be forced to eat--especially eat a lot--, I was afraid that I may not be able to control myself and give in to the feast around me.
I remember one year I brought a pot of soup to Thanksgiving; we never ever had soup before. I made sure to make it myself. I put in the lowest calorie vegetables, used no oil, and used water for my base instead of vegetable broth to save some calories. That was basically the only thing I ate that Thanksgiving.
Last year, when I was trying to finally recover from my anorexia, and when I started to have severe bulimic tendencies, I binged heavily on the Thanksgiving foods and desserts and vomitted several times in my grandparents' bathroom. I know all my family suspected it, but no one said a thing.
This year, after recovering (I'm not saying that all of my anorexic and bulimic tendencies are over, though), it will hopefully be my first Thanksgiving in three years that I can indulge and handle it.
Over the years, though, I've been told many things regarding my eating disorder on Thanksgiving that make me uncomfortable, upset, and ashamed (or proud sometimes when I was able to control myself during my first two Thanksgivings as severely anorexic) that I wish my families had never said to me.
So, I want to inform those who are not struggling with an eating disorder about things and actions to be cautious over this Thanksgiving when you are with someone who has an eating disorder, particularly anorexia in this case. Please be respectful to those struggling, otherwise certain comments and actions could only make things worse for that individual or everyone at the feast.
"You need to put some meat on those bones."
This one really hurts. I didn't want to gain weight, I wanted to see and feel my bones. It would make me defensive because I was proud of my thin state, and I didn't want someone to tell me otherwise.
"You're SO thin, aren't you going to eat something?"
This was a compliment to me. When I'd say "I know, but no, I won't really eat anything" in a cheery manner, I'd get backlash on more about my frame and weight and the fact I was eating very little, which of course caused me to defend myself and retaliate.
"I think you should get seconds."
No, I didn't think I should. I didn't even want to eat in the first place, but it's Thanksgiving, so I know I'd eat as little as I could get away with. Seconds was not an option, even when everyone else is getting seconds and thirds. I didn't want people to push me to get seconds.
"Why aren't you eating as much as everyone else?"
They knew why, they were just trying to subtly push me to hopefully change my find and indulge like everyone else. I didn't want my family to point out the obvious. "I'm full. I'm not that hungry. I just don't feel like eating too much this year," were my excuses that my family might sometimes let slide by.
"It's just food, and it's Thanksgiving, stop being so worrisome over it."
I knew it was Thanksgiving, which why I was so anxious for weeks and the day of. I was afraid of all the food, and it's not that easy to just "get over it" and eat. I didn't care if it was a feasting holiday. I knew I had to be strong and not cave into the plethora of foods around me. Maybe my family could eat guiltlessly, but no matter what they'd say, I could not.
*When someone puts more food on your plate without asking*
My dad has a really bad habit of doing this, all my life in fact. It would always call me great stress when he'd do that, especially on Thanksgiving. I'd hate that people would expect you to finish it too, but you'd just throw it away without a bite, not caring what they thought about it.
"You need to eat more; have dessert or put more on your plate."
I knew I needed to eat more because most of my family wouldn't shut up about it, just in general and on Thanksgiving. But did I want to eat more, did I want more on my plate, did I want to have dessert? No. Not at all. And I don't want my family trying to get me to do so, especially on such a stressful holiday.
"Stop being this way. You need to stop thinking about food, just eat. It's easy."
I couldn't just "stop being that way". It's who I was, under the control of my eating disorder. Hearing people tell me it was "easy" to just stop my eating disorder, to stop counting calories and thinking about food, and to just magically overcome what I was dealing with wasn't realistic. Especially on Thanksgiving.
*When your family stares at you as you slowly and cautiously eat just a little food, knowing they want to say something but instead they just look at you disappointed and irritated.*
This always would make me more anxious. I'd stare at my plate trying to ignore the looks and judgment that my family was surrounding me with. I would try my best to not let the stares and glares make me feel worse than I was already feeling. It would make me ashamed that I was anorexic, that I couldn't be normal like everyone else.
*Judging you for having little to nothing to eat and choosing the "healthiest" options only to eat.*
Overall, that's what all of these phrases and actions are doing, which isn't fair to those struggling or the right way to approach things. Judging and trying to force someone with an eating disorder to eat and indulge on Thanksgiving will only make things worse for the person and for those gathering for Thanksgiving.
So, what are some better ways to approach concerns on Thanksgiving?
"Have you been doing any better recently?"
"Would you like to try this dish? It's okay if you don't want to."
"I made your favorite dish/dessert, but if you wouldn't like it today, that's okay. There's plenty to go around."
"How are you feeling today? Does your stomach feel alright?"
"Would you like anymore of anything? It's okay if not."
"Is there anything you'd like differently this year to eat? We can make a separate dish."
Basically, this Thanksgiving, approach someone who is anorexic with care and love as they struggle to get through the holiday. Let them know it's okay, reassure them that they don't have to indulge like is expected. Remind them of their worth, not just in a physical sense. Don't openly judge or look down on them, don't try to force them to eat more, especially threatening to make them. Don't be rude, be patient. Let them do their best that day, it may surprise you what they may do in a positive sense that day, and it may even surprise them.
Thanksgiving is a time to come together and be cheery, to offer love and compassion, to be thankful for the things that matter in our lives. When a family member is struggling with something so severe and life-threatening as an eating disorder, be thankful they are there, surrounded by loved ones, be thankful that they are still alive, not judgmental and invasive about what they're going through.