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Thanksgiving in Recovery: 5 Tips from Eating Disorder Coaches

Thanksgiving is one of the hardest days of the year for people struggling with an eating disorder. From the food to family dynamics, challenges abound. Consider using the following suggestions offered by eating disorder recovery coaches to make your Thanksgiving as peaceful as possible!

1. Practice Gratitude: Research suggests that gratitude is a powerful practice that improves mental, physical, and emotional health. It is associated with better sleep, stronger relationships, and positive emotions. As author Melodie Beattie says: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.”

TIP: When you wake up on Thanksgiving morning, write down 5 things you are grateful for, and why. Remember, nothing is too small to appreciate! The glint of sunlight streaming in the window, warm water in the shower, cozy bedding, a favorite song or book, a beloved friend or pet.

2. Make A Plan: Developing a specific plan is critical for following through with desired behaviors. Especially when heading into what can be an overwhelming scene–an abundance of food choices, and a flurry of friends and family members–it is crucial to be clear ahead of time on your recovery goals, and the steps you can take to meet those intentions.

TIP: Maiken Wiese, East Coast Director of Nutrition for Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, advises her clients to stick to a food plan created with their therapist and dietitian. Identify the primary triggers you anticipate facing, and formulate clear actions for how to respond to those triggers. It may be helpful, Maiken suggests, to schedule a phone call during the holiday with a recovery coach, supportive friend, therapist, or RD, as a sort of “check point to renew your interest in and return to the plan.”

3. Protect Your Recovery: Spending the holidays with friends and family can be exciting, but also exhausting. It is common for individuals with eating disorders to put others’ needs first and minimize the legitimacy of their own needs. How can you prioritize, assert, and meet your recovery needs amidst the holiday whirl?

TIP: Maiken reminds her clients: “You have the right to take care of yourself and your recovery. The best way for you to show up for your family and loved ones is to take care of your recovery first.” Consider using the following mantras to stay grounded in your recovery. Write these on a slip of paper that you carry in your pocket, and/or say them silently to yourself when you feel unsteady about doing what you know you need:
• I have the right to take care of myself and my recovery.
• The best way to show up for my family is to tend to my recovery first.

4. Change The Scene: Environment hugely influences mood. If you feel your stress rising in the midst of the holiday hecticness and boisterous crowd of people, a change of scene may be the perfect antidote. Explore how you can regain steadiness in your recovery by taking a moment alone, or outside.

TIP: If weather permits, take a Savoring Walk. Go outside, and summon a childlike curiosity about the world around you. Look at everything as if for the first time. See what beautiful or interesting things grab your attention, and pause to take them in: smells, sights, sounds. Silently offer thanks to that source of pleasure and intrigue, and then move on. Continue on this mindful sensory walk, like a bumblebee travels from flower to flower.

5. Show Yourself Compassion: Maiken believes that during the tricky times of the holidays, “the most important tool must be self-compassion.” Beating yourself up for slips only exacerbates the struggle. Recovery coach Salini Grilli suggests, “Treat yourself with the same kindness and respect as you’d treat a good friend.”

TIP: If you find that you have veered from your recovery plan, pause. Take a few quiet moments with yourself. Place one hand on your heart, close your eyes, and take 3-5 deep, slow breaths. Tell yourself, silently or out loud: This is a challenging time, and I am doing a good job in a difficult situation. I am not alone in this. I choose to be kind to myself, and to get back on track.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and feel you need assistance from a recovery coach during the holiday season , Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists can help. Call 1-866-525-2766 or fill out our contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.