Steamed vegetables, roasted turkey without seasoning or gravy, and baked sweet potatoes are not generally items served at a Thanksgiving dinner. However, for an anorexic and a person with an eating disorder, these are more likely to be acceptable foods to eat rather than your typical holiday meal.
Twelve years ago, I remember vividly driving home from Michigan State University for the Thanksgiving weekend. A holiday that is traditionally known for celebrating around a dining room table, surrounded by family and friends, it is notorious for being a cheerful, enjoyable, and gratifying day for many people. It is a holiday that revolves around a monumental spread, including various delectable recipes that are unique to “Thanksgiving.” The menu typically consists of a corpulent turkey breast, accompanied by stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole. The feast, inevitably, concludes with a heavenly pumpkin pie smothered in cool whip (at least with my family.)
These foods don’t typically emulate the fat-free, low-calorie, low-carb diets many are surviving on. Therefore, this situation can be extremely scary for a person with an eating disorder.
To a person with an eating disorder, as you can imagine, it is an anxiety-provoking, dreadful holiday. A person who so fiercely controls his or her diet is placed in the most uncontrollable environment. For anorexics who are lucky enough to prepare the meal, it doesn’t necessarily transform into a bland feast. Instead, it becomes an opportunity to live vicariously through others, so providing a meal that encompasses full-fat items is more customary. Still, being around it and depriving oneself of holiday treats is a challenging and complex feat. The anorexic who does not prepare the meal ends up making a plate, and awkwardly uses his or her fork to poke at the food or spread it out — anything to make it appear that something was consumed.
Not only do the items presented on the Thanksgiving table typically include loads of butter, margarine, starches, and an excess of sugars, many are “mysterious.” That means we come upon a dish, labeled with the name of it, but we have no idea what ingredients were used to make it. For a controlled dieter, that is petrifying — and, ultimately, is declared a “fear” food.
A person with an eating disorder will not splurge. And, if pressured enough to do so in this type of setting, one will feel a tremendous amount of guilt; mostly by the voice inside one’s head that torments him or her by repeatedly stating, “Don’t eat it,” or “That will make you fat,” or “You don’t need that.” This pestering influence creates enough anguish.
Therefore, not only is the Thanksgiving menu a major issue for those with eating disorders, but the environment itself becomes tortuous. An anorexic is internally battling an overpowering voice, and struggling with a psychological disorder. So, someone addressing the issue out loud does not help. There was nothing worse than feeling all forty-two eyes pointing to my plate. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the upcoming year. An anorexic is well-aware, but until one is ready to get help and change, and treatment is in place, the issue will not resolve. For that reason, instead of focusing on the issue at-hand, make family and love the emphasis for the holiday weekend. Because, in the end, love and support by family and friends is the best therapy for one with an eating disorder.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!