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Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving in Recovery

Gina Susanna, NEDA Ambassador

The Holiday Season is here, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner – which means, if you’re anything like me, so is your anxiety. Being surrounded by endless talks of food and diets can be enough to make you want to scream, and seeing family who may or may not be supportive of your recovery (or even know what recovery is) can threaten to put you over the edge. So here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to help set yourself up for success:

Know (or create) your support system

The days leading up to the holiday, start thinking about who you can lean on and let them know ahead of time you might be reaching out. Perhaps you have a trusted family member who knows about your recovery, and you can check in with them throughout the day. Maybe you’ve got a friend on stand-by you can text for support or encouragement, or a support meeting close by that you can get to if needed. NEDA will be offering live support on Twitter from 10 am - 2 pm ET (join the conversation by tagging @NEDAstaff and using #Thx4Support). You can also text "NEDA" to 741-741 for 24/7 crisis support.

Get a script ready

You know those moments: when you can feel the topic of a conversation shifting into diet culture land, or when your Aunt So-and-so starts raving about her new diet, or how much weight your cousin Whats-his-name has gained or lost. It can be difficult to know what to say in the heat of the moment, so taking the time to come up with a few easy, quick comebacks can help you feel more confident:

  • “You know I used to think about food that way too, but then I learned about Intuitive Eating / how all foods are good foods / the dangers of diet culture / etc”
  • “I’m actually learning to have a better relationship with food / my body, and that kind of talk is counterproductive”
  • “The only kind of food you should feel guilty about eating is if you stole it from someone else!”
  • “I think we should be focusing on all the things we’re thankful for, rather than what our bodies look like”
  • “I’ve actually stopped weighing myself and it’s amazing how freeing it is”

If you know that certain people always say the same things, or comment on certain things every year, use that knowledge and create your own comebacks!

Set boundaries

Boundaries are limits you set for yourself that determine what kinds of behavior and situations you want around you. Setting healthy boundaries tells the people in your life how you want to be treated, and what you will – and won’t – tolerate. This can be mean not engaging with that family member who makes you feel bad about yourself, or walking away from conversations that are insensitive or triggering, or shutting down body or diet talk when you hear it. It can even be not putting yourself in situations that may compromise your recovery – and if that means spending the holiday at a support meeting, or at a friend’s house, or home alone with your dog, don’t be afraid to do what you need to do. You and your recovery come first.

Have a back-up plan

Sometimes despite your best efforts things don’t always go as planned. So if you find yourself in a situation where you feel yourself spiraling, in danger, or backed into a corner, have an alternative action ready to go. Can you take the dog for a walk or go for a drive and get out of the house for a bit? Maybe you can go have dessert at a friend’s house, or, if things get really bad, maybe you can go home. Utilizing a back-up plan doesn’t mean you’ve ‘failed’ – it means you’re prepared.

Be compassionate with yourself

Navigating the holidays can be hard. But remember that Thanksgiving (or any other holiday) is just one day out of the year – the hours will pass whether you want them to or not, and no matter what happens, you will make it through. Whether you can’t wait for it to be over, or you actually find yourself pleasantly surprised, whatever the outcome may be, you’ll be learning and growing from this experience. From one person in recovery to another, let me tell you: it’s okay if you feel stuck or uncomfortable or out of sorts. Recovery isn’t linear – there’s no direct path to healing, and everyone’s journey is different. Some days will inevitably be harder than others. But I promise you this: you’re stronger than you think. However you get through this holiday season, remember that you and your recovery come first. And no matter what happens, you are worthy of self-love, forgiveness, and compassion now, on the big day itself, and every day afterward. 

It's OK to Be Thankful and Terrified at the Same Time

Gina is a writer, blogger, and Instagrammer whose work integrates mental health and eating disorders on the axes of body politics and self acceptance. Currently she runs the Instagram account @nourishandeat, providing inspirational and thought-challenging content, along with sharing her own personal journey. She is the creator of the hashtag #embracethesquish, a movement driven by the idea that our bodies in every form are worthy of love and respect. She believes in the power of authenticity and acceptance, working to make sure her followers know that perfection — in life and in recovery — doesn’t exist. Gina is a frequent speaker at various workshops, panels, retreats, and NEDA walks. She is also currently enrolled in graduate study to receive her Masters in Clinical Mental Health. You can find Gina on Instagram, Twitter, or somewhere under a blanket. With snacks.

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