It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving 2020 is nearly upon us! The holiday season can bring both excitement and anxiety for many people, because of the pressures that come along with it. Thanksgiving can be one of the most difficult holidays for those trying to work on body image acceptance and improving their relationship to food. How can we eat intuitively and not focus on our weight when there are so many “disordered” discussions about food and weight around Thanksgiving time that are considered normal in our society? This year in particular, many of us may be reunited with family that we have not seen in a while and feel self-conscious about many aspects of our lives, including changes in our weight. Here are a few insights I hope to share around eating, Thanksgiving, and body image during COVID-19.
It is OK to eat more, or less, or at different times than the people you are celebrating with.
How many times have you heard someone at your holiday gathering talk about not eating all morning in order to “save up” the calories for the big meal, only to then to afterwards complain about how overly full they are and how they plan on “compensating” for what they consumed? Society normalizes a restrict-binge-purge cycle on Thanksgiving, but that does not mean you have to! Eating breakfast on Thanksgiving day will help you to not be so starving by the time the meal comes that you end up quickly and mindlessly binge eating. Let Thanksgiving be differentiated from any other day by the type of seasonally traditional foods you eat rather than the schedule or amounts. Even better, let it stand out because of the people and the memories.
You can talk about things other than the food.
There are so many things to catch up on in peoples’ lives other than what they are eating. If you know that your family tends to talk about weight, dieting, and exercise regimens, you can cope ahead for this in a few ways. Purchase a new board game to play (or, if you’re over Zoom, you can play virtual games), learn a new card game, or find an interesting movie that everyone can watch together and talk about. Have everyone write down a question that each member of the group answers during the meal. They can be thought provoking or silly, and they do not need to be about food, weight, or eating. If you can identify someone who can be an ally in redirecting judgmental conversations about any of the above, that can help, too. If you notice someone making these types of comments, even if you are not personally upset by them, be an ally to someone else at your table who may be.
Gaining weight during COVID-19 is normal, and okay.
It is not necessary to comment on a person’s (even your own) change in weight. If you have been less active over the past year, that may be because you are doing your part to flatten the curve of COVID-19. This year, many people found themselves placing more mental energy on making and eating food than they usually would because it was one of the few things that they could do while staying inside and socially distant. It is a way to preserve our mental health during a very trying time. When we feel out of control in many areas of life, we often turn to the things we can control, like what we eat. If you find yourself beating yourself up for gaining weight, ask yourself why you are considering weight gain such a negative outcome? The first thing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders will tell you is that it is not about particular foods or a person’s weight. Using food as a way to cope this year is a sign of mental self-preservation. In time, without judgment, dieting, or beating yourself up, your eating patterns will normalize. Commenting on your own weight or someone else’s, even if meant as a compliment, puts value on a person’s appearance over their character.
Let’s remind ourselves of the real reason we are coming together this Thanksgiving; gratitude.
Just a little something for your insight. – Elian