The Complicated Relationship between Thanksgiving & Body Issues

Thanksgiving, the holiday that has become synonymous with complete gluttony. I mean that in a loving way; I’ve come to enjoy this aspect of the holiday. However, like many people, I went through serious body image issues and troubles with food when I was younger. I’ll be honest when I say I still struggle now sometimes.  

Thanksgiving used to be a little difficult for that reason; I was having trouble with my relationship to food and I really didn’t know how to handle it. The expectation of the holiday is that you eat in excess, but at that point, I felt uncomfortable eating even normally. 

I am choosing to talk about my experience here because I myself find it helpful and less isolating hearing the stories of someone else. If you are currently struggling with any kind of disordered eating, there are resources on campus where you can seek professional help and healing. You can call the Student Health Services at 701-231-7331, and/or the counseling center at 701-231-7671. Healing is possible, and you are not alone. 

Thanksgiving and Unhealthy Relationships with Food

About five years ago, I was probably the most anxiety-ridden 14-year-old you’d ever seen. Leaving my room and going to school sucked the life out of me. I was getting frequent panic attacks; my baseline level of anxiety on any given day was classed as a disorder. 

As you could imagine, this majorly affected my ability to eat. I would go through days where I would lose my appetite, which led to a very unhealthy pattern of not eating, or only eating toast and drinking iced coffee for the entire day. Clearly, this is not healthy, especially for a young teen. This problem only got worse when I started being hyper aware of my body and its appearance. 

I feel like we’ve all gone through the ringer at some point, fighting with the whole “Skinny = Beautiful = Healthy” expectation. My ability to work past my anxiety-related food issues was hindered by the idea of how others perceived my body; I was thin, therefore healthy and beautiful, and there were no issues with what I was doing. Keep in mind, I was 14 thinking this. 

I remember dreading Thanksgiving that year. I was hiding how I was feeling from those around me, including my family, and I had no intention of letting them know. I remember feeling anxious, not eating much, and then feeling more anxious about my family pointing out that I hadn’t eaten much. 

I felt awful, physically and emotionally. I was tired. I remember feeling a sort of shame when I went back to eat again later in the day. Thankfully, there were times where hunger managed to beat the anxiety. Even then, my anxiety would get worse at times when I did manage to eat a full meal; I often got nauseous when I had panic attacks, which made it harder to eat. I still felt so conscious of my body; I feared gaining too much weight. That Thanksgiving was not the happiest for me.

I look at pictures from that time now and cringe. The way I looked was so outrageously different from how I viewed myself. I look at that girl now and see a skinny girl, who was very beautiful, but was not healthy or happy, but she was too scared to ask for help. 

Hurting, Healing, and Asking for Help  

Looking back, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t do more damage to myself when I was younger. I was not getting the proper help that I needed, and the effects of that still ring through me today. 

I feel passionately about this topic now especially, since I see so many young girls like me who are caught in a vicious cycle, being egged on by grotesque beauty standards. I think it’s beyond cruel that we expect girls to focus on those things before their bodies are even fully developed.

The hardest thing I had to work through was the shame. It was a holiday, I was supposed to be enjoying time with my family. Instead, I was losing my mind over how I looked, sick with anxiety because I knew deep down that what I was doing was hurting me, but scared that if I reached out I would be shamed.    

I am not a therapist, so I highly recommend that if you are struggling, you talk to someone with the proper skills and qualifications to help you. Please, get the proper help. I wish almost everyday that I had; it would’ve meant less issues for me to work through now. 

It’s okay to ask for help. It really, really is. I know holidays like Thanksgiving can be rough when you don’t know where to turn, but like I said, there are resources right here on campus that you can turn to. I’ve improved a lot when it comes to my relationship to food, all things considered.    

Healing is possible, but it is a large undertaking. For me, it wasn’t one singular battle. It was the battle of wrangling my anxiety into something manageable; again, in all honesty, I still struggle with this. It was a battle to feel better about the way I looked; which is exponentially easier said than done.  

No one is perfect, no matter how they appear on the outside. You don’t know what the people around you are truly going through. You may not even know what your own family members are going through. So, please refrain from making any unnecessary comments about how much someone is eating this holiday season. Minding your own business is highly appreciated.        

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