The end-of-the-year holiday season is officially upon us! Whether or not you consider yourself festive, this time of the year inevitably comes with social gatherings centered around food. The purpose of this post is to share the effects Thanksgiving can have for people who have a difficult time around food and some tips to help navigate this busy time.

Gathering Around the Table…Can be Stressful

In the U.S., Thanksgiving and Christmas are known as the two “eating holidays” in which individuals will consume the highest caloric intake of the year, averaging around 14% more than usual (Dannibale, 2014). The entire aspect of Thanksgiving focuses on a social gathering with family and friends around an abundance of food. It can be hard for someone who has a difficult relationship with food to be surrounded by more portions than usual, along with navigating potentially tough family relationships.

Those who struggle with disordered eating may feel a significant loss of control around this time, leading to an increase in stress levels and negative thoughts (Dannibale, 2014). It may be challenging to eat around others at the table. It may also be difficult to turn down eating certain foods. This can lead to them feelings of guilt and/or overeating. Guilty thoughts may even influence spending the next few weeks to months attempting to counteract what they ate during the Thanksgiving season (Dannibale, 2014). Others may also not feel comfortable having others at the dinner table watch them consume more calories. Additionally, we tend to glorify overeating and feeling “stuffed” during the holiday season. That might not be beneficial for some because people can get to a point where they feel sick and regret eating the food they did. This can lead to negative actions to cleanse or purge the food from that individual’s body or restrict a certain amount of food over the next couple of days as a way of atonement.

Overall, the pressure of being around family in addition to eating on Thanksgiving can be a lot to handle, even more for someone who has a stressful relationship around food. Below are some helpful tips:

-Prepare a game plan before the holiday season ramps up! Consider potential triggers, what soothes you in the moment, and people who can support you.

-Set healthy boundaries and steer clear of weight-related conversations. Feel free to redirect the topic to something more fun that everyone can enjoy!

-Recognize you are not alone in your feelings.

-Remember to enjoy the festivities! Find joy in old traditions and start new ones that are not revolved around food.

-Check in with yourself during social gatherings. Be mindful of your food and alcohol intake without judgement.

-Sample different foods that are offered and go back for the ones you particularly liked! You do not have to feel guilty for going back for seconds or not finishing your plate.


Dannibale, Kaitlin. (2014). The effects of holidays on eating disorders. New Errands: The 

Undergraduate Journal of American Studies, 2(1), 5-14.

By: Taylor Noem

Taylor is a final year MSW student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work, and this is her first year working in the Living F.R.E.E. Lab.

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