Taking the Focus Away from Food this Thanksgiving

Woman Walking Along The Lake

Thanksgiving can be stressful for those in eating disorder recovery, but it does not have to be that way. Focusing on the blessings in your life and what brings joy to your heart can make it less about food and more about gratitude.

This is easier said than done, particularly if Thanksgiving was difficult for you when you were sick in your eating disorder. It might be a particularly triggering time for a variety of reasons, but keeping the focus on the positives in your life can prevent this holiday from continuing to be a trigger.

The Power of Gratitude

At its core, Thanksgiving is a time to look at your life and express gratitude for your blessings. This might mean being thankful for your loved ones, your chance at recovery, or anything that is meaningful to you.

A recent study [1] examined the effects of writing down what you are grateful for each day versus writing down what has irritated you throughout the day. Those who were assigned to write down things for which they are thankful ended up experiencing greater levels of optimism and overall satisfaction with their lives, in addition to improved physical health.

In the context of Thanksgiving in eating disorder recovery, this might mean that focusing on why you are triggered or how the holidays have been difficult in the past can actually be harmful to your mental and physical health.

Instead, look around at what fills your soul and inspires you toward recovery. If it helps, write down what you are grateful for or journal about it. Use whatever coping tools are effective for you to take the focus away from food and place it on your blessings.

Coping with Negative Food Talk

Even loved ones who are well-versed in how to talk about food and exercise in the presence of someone with an eating disorder might slip on Thanksgiving. For somWoman focused on gratitude this Thanksgivinge reason, this becomes a socially acceptable time for people to engage in negative food talk.

First of all, try not to hold it against them. It can be tempting to fill with rage when you hear friends or loved ones engaging in negative food talk or joking about using exercise as a compensatory behavior, particularly when you are fresh into recovery. Remember that they likely mean no harm.

This can be used as a learning opportunity. If you feel it will be helpful, you can speak to your loved one in private to explain the impact their negative food talk has on you, and why it is harmful.

Even if you speak your truth, try not to be hurt if their actions do not change. You cannot control that, but you can control the impact these words have on your own food behaviors or exercise regimen post-Thanksgiving.

It can be argued that we live in a society in which negative food talk is becoming the norm. While this can be frustrating, it is ultimately helpful to recognize this in recovery. We have to fight to have a healthful relationship with food in a time when disordered food thoughts and behaviors are socially acceptable. Focusing on your recovery is key.

Spending Thanksgiving in a Safe Space

If Thanksgiving is a hard time for you, make sure to spend it in a safe space. Whether this means spending the holiday with family, friends, or your local community, know that you are worthy of being in a safe space that will support your recovery.

For those who do not have the option of avoiding potential triggers in this way, try to find one or two support people wherever you will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Whether this is a parent, your aunt, a partner, or a close friend, let your support people know that you might need to lean on them this holiday.Standing in fall leaves

Even if you are in a safe space, triggers can come out of nowhere. There are online resources available during the holidays if you feel triggered and are unable to reach out to your support people in the moment.

Focusing on gratitude, arming yourself against negative food talk, and spending the holiday with support people can ensure that your Thanksgiving will be spent in a way that takes the focus away from food and supports your eating disorder recovery.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your favorite way to practice gratitude on a daily basis?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.


[1]:  Emmons, R.A., et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 15, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com