Thanksgiving: Sharing this holiday with those who have an Eating Disorder

Thanksgiving is a time for us to sit down to a meal with those we love, giving  thanks, among other things, for the special people in our lives.  Thanksgiving, however, can be a very scary experience for people struggling with an eating disorder. Much of the focus and emphasis is around food during this holiday, leaving many people with ED feeling overwhelmed. Not only are they struggling with food, they can be holding judgments, opinions, worries, and concerns  of others at the Thanksgiving table. Knowing just how difficult Thanksgiving can be, I decided to share with you a list of DO’s and DON’Ts when sharing this holiday with someone who has an eating disorder.  I do want to underline that if the advice you received from a medical professional currently treating your loved one for an eating disorder is contradictory to what I write, please discuss this with them. Although I am a therapist, I am not treating your loved one and therefore use your discretion when reading below.  This is a general blog. What I am sharing here stems from years of working with people, male and female, who have suffered through many holiday dinners, not just because of the food on the table, but because of conversations, attitudes and overall experiences they have faced during the holidays.  Please read this with an open mind.


DON’T comment on their appearance. This means do not tell them how great they look, how much weight they lost or gained, how they are filling their clothes out differently, how rosy their cheeks are etc.

DON’T weigh the food on their plate with the gaze of your eyes. Yes, they can see what you’re doing. No matter how much food is on their plate, do no stare at how much or how little they are or are not consuming.

DON’T judge their body shape with your stare. Sometimes the silent judgments are the most painful.

DON’T incessantly keep offering food. Let them know they are free to take whatever is available, and do not keep pushing if you feel the amounts are not adequate.

DON’T use the phrase “Should you be eating that” or say anything that remotely implies the same meaning.

DON’T tell them you can’t understand why they are doing this to themselves….perhaps not the day for this conversation.

Please, please, please, take the following next points very seriously. If you take nothing else, please take these points.

DON’T, I beg you, don’t talk about exercise, the gym, or how the neighbour next door took up running, and how Aunt Gertrude is now on Weight Watchers or Uncle Bill joined Jenny Craig and how great everyone feels. This is a DON’T for any day of the year actually.

DON’T talk about calories, and how fat you feel after eating such an amazing Thanksgiving meal.

DON’T talk about recovery and why it’s taking so long….unless they want you to hold this concern and they want to speak with you about it. Rule of thumb is, always ask first.


­DO tell the person how happy you are they came to spend this holiday with you. That they showed up, that they are here and you get to spend more time with them.

DO  ask them what they need from you to make this day easier….and DON’T judge their answer.

DO  tell them that you’d love to hear about what is happening in their lives, but you understand if they don’t want to talk about it.

DO be grateful to see them, and show this with a genuine smile, perhaps even offering a hug.

DO keep the conversation warm, genuine and positive.

DO make them feel loved and tell them they are loved, no matter what their body shape is on this day.

This is a day for giving thanks and sharing love. Perhaps there are other days for loving yet tough conversations to be had, for honest concerns to permeate through the daily on goings of life. However, Thanksgiving might not be that day. Allow today to be set aside for gratitude and thanks for being with those you love, including the people who are struggling, and understand that this may be one of the most difficult days in their struggle. The goal is to make this day easier on them, not harder….and hopefully easier on you as well.