If you know Aunt Milly isn't going stop talking about her latest diet, or that Grandpa will crack jokes about the Freshman 15 that you "still haven't lost" all these years later, going to Thanksgiving dinner can be a dreaded occasion. Especially if you're working hard to recover from an eating disorder, escape diet culture and/or accept your body.
If you don't want to skip out, but you also don't want to shove your feelings down, what do you do?
I know it's tempting to want some prescribed responses to memorize, but it's a bit more complex than that. Your relationship with your family or loved ones is unique, and where you are mentally, physically and emotionally is unique. This post is designed to help you determine what is best for you, and to help you honor that.
The first step is to clarify your intentions and commitments for the holiday. If your intention is to connect with your family and be vulnerable, your responses will be different than if your intention is to hold your boundaries and stand up for yourself. Take some time to sit with yourself and ask what you really want out of your interactions with family or loved ones.
Maybe you want to open up and share that you've really struggled with your body image, and that diet and weight loss talk are deeply hurtful (I only recommend this if you know they're capable of responding respectfully). Maybe you want to draw a boundary, and say "I am working hard to stay away from harmful diet culture messages, and I ask that we talk about something else." Knowing what you're committed to makes a huge difference. Some other possible intentions and commitments could be:
- I'm committed to listening to my body, taking in nourishment, bringing awareness to any messaging that is shaming in any way (either from myself or from others), and choosing to focus on self-love instead.
- I intend to be compassionate toward my family, and recognize that they are doing the best they can with the awareness that they have, and to not take their responses personally.
- I'm committed to making strong requests for how I want to be treated, and spoken to, and not backing down.
- I intend to be warm, open hearted, and share my gratitude and love with my family.
- I'm committed to putting myself first, and protecting my heart, even if that means distancing myself from my family.
Once you've determined what your intentions and commitments are, start to speculate about ways you can interact with your family from that intention. Chances are, they won't change or show up any differently, so it's important to be realistic. How can you respond to their usual jabs, diet talk or jokes in a way that reflects your commitment? So if your intention is to stand up for yourself, what would I see you doing, or what would I hear you saying? Write those things down, to anchor them in your memory.
Even if you know your intention, and have rehearsed some scenarios, it can still be challenging to stick to it in the moment, especially if you've had any alcohol. Skip the alcohol if you're concerned about this. No matter how much we plan, life can always throw us unexpected curve balls. Be gentle with yourself, and keep returning to your commitments and intentions. They are your North Star if you feel lost.
It is also extremely helpful to have a friend to reach out to, even via text, to check in with throughout the day. They don't have to be close by, they just have to know what you're committed to, and be willing to remind you of your intentions.
If you have an intention that gets made fun of, misunderstood, or thrown back at you, please remember: their response is not about you! People can be very touchy about their beliefs about food and weight. You may strike a nerve if Aunt Milly doesn't want to know that she's been brainwashed by diet culture. If she lashes out, that is about HER (or whoever it is) and not about you!
If your feelings get really hurt, it's OK to step away from the table. Go for a walk. Take some deep breaths. Call a friend. Vent in your journal. Do anything you need to do to take care of yourself in a healthy, connected way.
Eating the entire pan of dinner rolls, and washing it down with a bottle of Cab might feel good in the moment, but it won't help you deepen your connection to yourself. Whether you've realized it or not, if you're reading this, it tells me that you want to connect with yourself in a new way. That is really beautiful, and deserves to be acknowledged.
If you do get upset and end up eating and/or drinking to numb the pain, it's OK. I've certainly cleaned out my fair share of pans and bottles on Thanksgiving. I did what I could to survive, and it worked. I survived. You're also doing the best you can, and chances are there's something you can learn from this experience. You can always take that with you going forward.
The fact that you want to make a shift, and you value yourself enough to want to protect yourself from harmful conversations tells me you're really brave and strong. That alone is huge, and you'll only get better from here.
All my love to you this Thanksgiving!
PS- For more guidance on managing triggering situations including holidays, dating, and travel, download my free book Recovery Survival Guide. It contains 63 pages of practical tools to help you navigate recovery from binge eating disorder or bulimia.