triggers, tryptophan, tranquility: thanksgiving dinner with an eating disorder

It’s now been 2 weeks since our country elected the most racist, xenophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-semitic ableist, and I still feel heavy with grief, sadness, and fear. This is a complicated time, to say the least; a time that I fear will undoubtedly have pernicious consequences.

I recognize the privilege I have in experiencing such shock value from our country’s choice, and the hate crimes that have followed. I keep reminding myself that unfortunately, this is reality and not a ferocious nightmare. When the world feels this out of control, I still feel like it is easier to fall back on old behaviors of restriction to make everything “feel okay(!)”.

But I’ve resisted the urges with the help of my team, CJ, and friends in recovery. I’m here trying to be an activist and stay in recovery. Because of my emotions right now, I feel a bit immobilized and not quite ready to act. I’m trying to let myself grieve and accept where I’m at, but the blame beast can’t stay away. My anger, as does my grief fuels me to act, but my fear, my damn fear, always stops me in my tracks.

My fear around not feeling safe to live authentically (one of my biggest goals in recovery) is synergistically compounded by the beginning of the holiday season. I realize how grinch-like that sounds. Not intentional.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of gratitude but while it’s not inherently about the food, the food is what brings everyone together in most homes. For someone with an eating disorder, this is actually terrifying. On multiple levels.


I keep asking myself if it’s “normal” to have anxiety about a holiday meal? Is the way I’m feeling and acting considered “being in recovery”? I still don’t know the parameters for qualification. I’m following my meal plan for the most part (albeit, rigidly), but anything beyond it sends me down a guilty, indulgent, and i’m-too-glutinous path of self-deprecation. The irony here is quite obvious: In our society, Thanksgiving is a holiday that embraces overeating and fullness and delicious comfort food. The idea of being confronted with a large table of food immediately produces intense shallow breathing, on the borderline of overdramatic hyperventilation.

While there’s no doubt that the food is causing me anxiety, let’s be honest, at this point, I know it ain’t just about the food, amiright?

So where is my anxiety coming from?

I just stepped down from IOP last week, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t confront the fact that I feel like I’m teetering in the precarious position of being somewhere in “recovery” and of being in my eating disorder. While I’m looking forward to it, this is going to be the first time I’ve seen some of my relatives since last Thanksgiving when I was pretty sick, and about a week before my second stint in residential. I’m afraid of getting triggered and I’m afraid of wanting to use behaviors. Last week my therapist said, “Good! Get triggered! You can handle it!” [insert: skepticism]

Comparison is my healthy self’s kryptonite and in addition to worrying about what everyone else is eating, I know I’m going to be comparing my own meal plan compliant plate to my plate last year which was mainly made up of some watered down (blue, obvi) Gatorade.

What it comes down to, though, is that yes, Thanksgiving is hard if you have an eating disorder. Sometimes Thanksgiving can be hard if you DON’T have an eating disorder. But Thanksgiving, believe it or not is not about the food, it’s about gratitude. gratitudeEven in times of turmoil and pain (aka now), when you’re stuck in a constant state of fear, it can be helpful to search for and hold onto that gratitude. I know that living in anticipatory fear of the damn Thanksgiving food is going to lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy that I do not want.

So instead, I’m striving for:

  1. HOPE: This Thanksgiving, I’m going to hold onto hope that I have the strength to deal with difficult situations. I’m going to carry hope instead of expectations because there are no guidelines in the recovery handbook. I’m going to hold hope that my fear will soon fuel action that I am capable of, including feeding my body adequately, to being able to participate in greater advocacy efforts to protect my and others’ rights and beliefs.
  2. SEEKING SUPPORT: Despite how vulnerable I feel, I plan to seek out support and guidance from those who believe in and understand what true and full recovery looks like, rather than harboring eating disorder thoughts and urges inside.
  3. FLEXIBILITY: Flexibility, I hate you, but I know I need you. I know I can’t bring measuring cups to the Thanksgiving dinner table (wait, can I?) and I don’t like not knowing how many exchanges I’m eating. But I’ll be okay. Rigidity only feeds the eating disorder.
  4. CHANGING THE LANGUAGE WE USE AROUND FOOD: Not that I’m planning on giving a lesson to my family on the way our cultural rhetoric around food impacts body image, eating disorders, and self-esteem…I do want to approach the meal and upcoming holidays with the opportunity to shift the language we use when we talk about food. I don’t want my eating disorder to transform food from this celebratory source of shared pleasure into something fraught and divisive. I want everyone in my family to be able to view food as important nourishment, self-care, and sustenance.
  5. SELF-COMPASSION AND GENTLENESS: If I get triggered, I will be gentle and compassionate with myself. Instead of falling right back into my eating disorder, I am going to speak to it with kindness and recognize its once useful purpose.

In general, treatment can be all-consuming. It’s always important to find a balance between practicing self-preservation, self-forgiveness, and self-reflection with cultivating joy and gratitude. So try not to treat this holiday as any different. It might feel messy at times, but just try to find balance with a side of tranquility (the tryptophan might help with that actually). Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

In strength and healing,


triggers, tryptophan, tranquility: thanksgiving dinner with an eating disorder
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