First published in 2017 on A Weight Lifted.
The tall bouquet of red, orange, and yellow flowers may be the centerpiece of the table, but we all know that Thanksgiving’s main event is sixteen courses of yum — that, for some of us, is served with a side of fear.
As a person struggling with Binge Eating Disorder, a meal was never just a meal. And an event centered around a meal felt like much more than joyous occasion. It was oftentimes paired with confusion, frustration, and all-consuming thoughts. Everyone else was there to be with family and friends — food was merely a bonus.
For me, food was the focus. The agonizing, attention-sucking, obsessive focus. They wanted to chat. I wanted to chew. And in the end, I ended up choking. Choking on the conversation and the small, tamed bites of food that I wanted so badly to shovel in and swallow.
Craving to feel thankful, all I felt was guilt.
During the years when I have company over for Thanksgiving, I find myself getting a familiar feeling before sitting down for the big dinner. The butterflies start to swarm, and a tornado of anticipation rises in my stomach: Food, food, food! Yay, yay, yay!
But as I steal looks around the room, I’m unable to see in others what I feel inside of myself.
Is everyone else this excited? Am I too excited? Once I start, how do I know if I’ve eaten too much? What if I’m actually bingeing, but don’t realize it!?
Over the past few years, this is when my strong alter ego Jace would chime in. Jace is the tough, resilient part of me that I created to help me through difficult times with food and with life. She inspires me, guides me, and reminds me that bingeing isn’t the answer — no matter the question.
“No, no — I’m not trying to fix anything with food right now,” she tells me. “This is not a binge. I’m around people I know (some of whom I actually like), and I’m partaking in a holiday meal. I’m here in this moment, and I want to stay in this moment — I’m not trying to escape. Looking forward to a Thanksgiving meal is something that everyone does!”
This Thanksgiving, if you start to listen to the judgment devil on your shoulder instead of the brave voice inside of your heart, remind yourself that this is not the last supper.
After talking myself down, I’m usually able to start with a few mindful bites. I feel in control and content: You got this! But on some occasions, the conversation, alcohol, and the excessive portions start to work their black magic, and in hindsight, I realize I’ve swapped tasting for chewing.
As I start to scoop mouthful after mouthful, I pop in and out of awareness. I’m not alone; this is weird. People can see me eat, and I’m not sure I like it. I slow down so as not to embarrass myself, but the slower I eat, the more time I have to think in between each bite. Eating and thinking? Oookay, now this is uncomfortable.
I time reaching for my second helping based on those around me. Should I take smaller portions and go back for more, more often? Or mound my plate so I don’t have to get up, stretch, reach, or look like I’ve had more than one plate?
I think to myself, “Well, I’ve already had too much. I might as well have more. I’ll just be better tomorrow. And if I’m going to be better tomorrow, it means I can be really, really bad right now.”
Next thing I know, I’m present. My plate is cleared of its fourth, fifth, sixth helping? I hope no one else was counting. I sure as hell wasn’t. And although my plate might be empty, my stomach is uncomfortably full.
So is my brain — with guilt, shame, and confusion. I hate this feeling. I hate it every time. Everyone else at this table looks so calm, so content. This isn’t fair. Why me? Here we go again!
Break the Cycling Thoughts — This Is Not the Last Supper!
There is no good or bad in this situation. There’s what you choose to do, what you choose not to do, and what you can choose next time.
This Thanksgiving, if you start to listen to the judgment devil on your shoulder instead of the brave voice inside of your heart, remind yourself that this is not the last supper. There will be food tomorrow! Try not to think of this meal as your last “hurrah” — you know, that feeling you get right before you start another new diet. This isn’t the be-all, end-all. You’re just going to eat awesome food with (hopefully) awesome people.
If you start feeling like this holiday is the last day you can ever possibly eat anything wonderful ever again, give yourself some reassurance. You will eat tasty things again. (After all, what’s Thanksgiving without epic leftovers?!)
And believe it or not, you can make “Thanksgiving food” on any day of the year that you like. (Stuffing on a Wednesday in July?? Well, I think I just might!)
The more tangled up in food thoughts we become, the less we’re able to savor the other elements of this occasion: the decorations, the company, the conversation. But enjoying wonderful, delicious food is a beautiful part of life. You deserve to be here, in this moment, just like everyone else. I know it’s easier said than done, but try to let yourself experience this gift.
I know, I know — I already said this wasn’t a cake walk! (Ooh…cake…) For those of us with food frustrations, it’s true that Thanksgiving can be one of the hardest days of the year. We’re surrounded by family and overwhelmed by food options and abundance, portion sizes, and number of helpings, after all.
So, this year, I have a proposition. Let’s make our choices the thing that we honor, not the turkey or the can-shaped cranberry gelatin that they call sauce. Instead of being scared of the smells that cause us to salivate, let us be in the moment and soak them in.
We can mindfully use all of our senses to enjoy our meals and stop fearing the food before we overflow two plates and hide in a room, away from the company who won’t understand what Thanksgiving means to a binge eater.
This is why I propose this year we follow our own rules — our very own set of Thanksgiving Commandments. Say them with me now — loud and proud!
- Let us not cry inside at the sight of a genetically gifted cousin who can devour without shame because they are merely following the holiday rules and overindulging, not bingeing.
- Let us not push our food around in the face of an audience — and then overcompensate in the dark when the party is over.
- Let us not sneak bites while we cook, but taste for taste when the recipe calls for it.
- Let us not hate ourselves for a slice of pie or punish ourselves the day after if we have two.
- Let us enjoy the food that is calling our taste buds and ignore the foods that we know we don’t really want.
- Let us believe in ourselves more than we believe in a turkey and its trimmings. It has no hold over our self-confidence and determination unless we let it.
- Let us be ready to help ourselves, without guilt or shame, through the tough food moments that test our strength.
- Let us love ourselves, the people around us, and put food third on the list.
- Let us take the day one hour, one minute, one bite at a time.
- Let us be thankful for the food that we are about to eat.
It is just one day and whatever happens in your home, your kitchen, or on your plate — it will be okay.
But if you start to feel overwhelmed, go ahead and excuse yourself from the table. Head to the bathroom or take a breath outside — replant yourself somewhere safe. Giving your eyes, ears, nose, and palate a second to regroup can help you reset and reload.
You’re doing great — you just have to believe it.
But if you’re looking for some extra help, click here and scroll to the bottom of this post to print out your BED Support Card. You can bring it with you in your pocket wherever you go this Thanksgiving.
This essay was written by Green Mountain at Fox Run alum Jacki Monaco as part of a series called “The Binge Eating Diaries.” For more on Jacki’s journey from binge eating to wellness, check out these posts: