Thanksgiving feasts heighten stress for those with eating disorders, according to WVU expert

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According to Elizabeth Claydon, an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at West Virginia University, Thanksgiving, particularly the focus on food, can worsen unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors that characterize eating disorders.

Claydon emphasized the importance of disengaging from unhealthy conversation, or uncomfortable topics for the sake of those who may have an eating disorder. This can involve talk about weight, shape and food.

There is also the National Eating Disorder Helpline (800-931-2237) for those in need of support.

Quotes from Elizabeth Claydon:

WVU assistant professor Elizabeth Claydon notes that a Thanksgiving feast for most spells trouble for those with eating disorders. (WVU Photo)

“We know that food has strong social and emotional connotations. However, in our culture, and especially on Thanksgiving, food can be an overwhelming focus. The Thanksgiving holiday is centered specifically around a feast, which can be associated with increased anxiety around some of this food, especially for individuals who may have a difficult relationship with food or their bodies. Additionally, an individual may only see these specific family members and friends rarely, heightening the stress in this situation if there are strained relationships.”

“The more problematic nature of Thanksgiving is the way individuals talk about food, their bodies and the implications of these meals. When family members or friends comment on the body or shape of someone they have not seen in months, shame others for eating too much or too little of the meal or criticize themselves for how much they have eaten, they set the tone for others to do similarly. These shaming conversations around a time that is highly focused on food can heighten stress, trigger guilt and perpetuate problematic relationships with food.”

“Creating healthy boundaries, even and especially with those you love, are an essential part of also creating a healthy relationship with your body and with food. There is often an inter-generational component to eating disorders and disordered eating, through a combination of genetics and socio-environmental influences, so it is important to break that cycle. Ensuring that you can disengage from an unhealthy conversation about weight, shape and food before you internalize it or stepping away from the dinner table momentarily during a discussion on dieting are ways to create some of those boundaries. It is also important to know where to reach out for support during these stressful times. The NEDA helpline is one support option.”

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