The Thanksgiving holiday can be filled with dread when you are working on recovery from an eating disorder or letting go of diets.

Living in diet culture, we are surrounded by people inadvertently judging food choices, while at the same time commenting on their own food intake and body image, especially those with eating disorders.
Here are some strategies that we share with our clients and can be helpful for dealing with the unofficial start of the holiday season, when you’re recovering from chronic dieting and/or disordered eating.

10 Tips to Manage the Holiday Meals  


  1. Mentally prepare yourself by working with your team to strategize the holiday.
  2. Follow your meal plan (if you have one) and visualize your plate. Meal plans act as safety nets for when you feel lost with food. If you are giving up diets, remind yourself that all foods fit and there are NO RULES. There are no good or bad foods. Remember, this is only one meal, in one day. There is no need to compensate for a meal with any behaviors. Plan how you want your plate to look!
  3. Have a support person. Can you have a friend or family member sit close by or next to you for moral support?
  4. Survey the scene. Walk into the room and see which foods are on the table, including desserts. The more mental preparation you have, the easier it will feel.
  5. Distract yourself. If you feel anxiety coming up, see about distracting yourself by taking some deep breaths, counting the light bulbs in the room, or having a grounding tool like a fidget in your hands. Leave the room if you need to.
  6. Find your gratitude. Try and remember that the meal comes from a lovely tradition of sharing gratitude for all we have. Can you work on finding what or who you feel grateful for this year?
  7. Plan responses to diet or body weight discussions. Examples:
    • I don’t like to discuss my body or food plan with anyone. It is my business.
    • Have a list of go-to topics if you need to change the subject: “Let’s talk about my new puppy.”
    • Remove yourself from the room for a few minutes if you need to.
    • If someone keeps talking about their diet or body and you don’t want to discuss, set a firm boundary and say, “Let’s talk about xyz,”…over and over again!
  8. Work on some mindfulness. Plan ahead to check in with hunger before you eat your meals, halfway through and towards the end of the meal. See about pacing yourself with another person.
  9. Do not restrict beforehand or compensate afterwards. Remind yourself that the holiday is just one day and that you do not need to compensate for the meal with over-exercise or undereating. Our bodies have mechanisms in place to balance out our food intake.
  10. Practice good self-care and self-compassion. Make sure to get adequate rest and unfollow social media accounts that talk about dieting or negative body image. Remember that there are people who want to help you. If the day doesn’t go as planned, have compassion. Remember that letting go of disordered eating patterns is hard work that takes time and lots of patience.

Here’s a video with a few tips to manage the Thanksgiving holiday from the Erica Leon Nutrition team of Dietitans!

When you are recovering from chaotic or disordered eating or eating disorders, planning for your success is critical to your recovery. Flexible meal planning, as well as experimentation with different meals and snacks, is one of the top methods my clients work on to heal and recover; learning to view food as a path to nourishment, pleasure, and connection rather than one of stress!
Recipes for Recovery CookbookMy colleague and fellow dietitian, Diana Ushay, and I created the Recipes for Recovery Cookbook, to help you challenge the eating disorder voice and take back control of your life. Recipes for Recovery is a cookbook to inspire you to try new flavors, to feel more comfortable in the kitchen and find satisfaction with your food.
If you are ready to move forward on your Recovery Journey with more food freedom — Purchase your Recipes for Recovery Cookbook now!