Boundaries & Gratitude are Like PB&J
Here in the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday reminds many of us to reconnect to our gratitude.
Yet, this creates a very interesting tension for individuals with eating disorders because of the central role that food plays in our gatherings and celebrations. “I’m supposed to feel gratitude while managing all of this food stress?!” For many of my clients, balancing social and familial dynamics alongside food and eating feels like a no win situation. As I’ve been reflecting on this dilemma, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that healthy boundaries play in creating a sense of feeling respected. And when we feel respected, there is much more room for gratitude to flourish.
Now I am the first to admit that asserting boundaries sounds great in theory but is really hard to accomplish in real life. If this wasn’t the case, we’d all be walking around like boundary setting pros! But I’m also a believer that food is a concrete area to start practicing asserting our boundaries. And in my years of working with people, I have seen that once they start setting boundaries with food and diet talk, a confidence grows in their capacity to set other types of boundaries. As my clients and supervisees have heard me say, “Food is the play-dough of life – the arena we get to mold, shape, play with – that gives us practice for other areas we want to address.”
Below are a couple suggestions to help you think about what boundaries you might need to set to help you connect to gratitude this holiday season. As always, if my ideas don’t resonate, chuck ‘em! I trust that you have the wisdom to identify what you need.
- Send a note: If you are gathering with a group, consider sending a note beforehand to set the tone. “Hi everyone, I can’t wait to share the Thanksgiving holiday with you. Many of you know I’m working on my recovery from an eating disorder and have asked how you could support me. Thank you! One way is to focus our conversation on one another rather than our anxieties about the meal (e.g. needing to take a walk to burn off the calories or skipping breakfast to make up for it.).“
- Find a buddy: Identify if there is one trusted person who has your back and is less activated by food, weight, and body conversations. Perhaps they can swoop in to change the conversation if things go off course.
- Set a time limit: Give your host/hostess a heads up that you appreciate all of their hard work but need to head out early. If this is a trusted relationship you can share a bit more about what is coming up for you but remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
- Carve out some alone time: I have had clients find a little time to themselves, even in the restroom or out for a quick walk. They bring some affirming mantras, listen to a grounding meditation, or even leave me a venting message on my voicemail!
- Opt out: Some relationships are just too toxic and complex to navigate holiday meals without it coming at a significant cost to your mental health. Consider getting together with a smaller and carefully chosen group of people who can respect your need for a minimally triggering meal.
Sending you the strength and confidence to assert your boundaries so you can let a little more gratitude in this holiday season.