Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family, fun… and a whole lot of feasting. According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American consumes 4,500 calories and 230 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. While the seemingly endless meal of turkey, potatoes and stuffing galore (plus leftovers, of course) is anticipated by so many, Thanksgiving can be a binge eater’s worst nightmare.
Thanksgiving usually involves a sit-down dinner. Binge eaters experience shame and guilt after a binging episode, and eating in front of others can be an extremely painful experience. Additionally, someone at the table could be a binge eater’s stressor or enabler. The holiday itself is more or less centered on heaps of deliciously tempting dishes—not to mention the hours of drinking and snacking before the big meal. Thanksgiving can potentially be one big, scary trigger for binging, losing control or relapsing back into the cycle of compulsive eating.
Sure, many people can restrain themselves from over-consumption. Or if they do allow themselves to indulge in all the Turkey Day items they can possibly consume, they’re easily able to go back to their normal food intake the following day. No big deal. But for those individuals with binge eating, emotional eating and compulsive overeating disorder, it is a big deal.
Binge eating disorder involves recurring periods of excessive overeating. Dr. Ralph E. Carson, RD, Ph.D. and Executive Director of FitRx describes the common characteristics of binge eating patterns:
Reoccurring episodes of binge eating, whether they take place during the holiday season or year-round, goes way beyond the simple enjoyment of rich, delicious food. It signifies something much deeper.
Binge eating disorder is almost always the result of behavioral issues that lie underneath the surface, failing to be treated and reinforcing the cycle of binging.
prevents binge, compulsive and emotional eaters from change and progress. Stress raises cortisol levels, and cortisol is a hormone that keeps tissues flooded with inflammatory agents that contribute to emotional and physical problems often associated with binge eating disorder. And when fat and sugar hit the brain’s pleasure receptors, we feel more relaxed.
is not always a factor in binge behavior, but when present it can trigger and escalate the response. Consequences of binge eating are destructive to mental health, triggering depression, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and worthlessness.
, poor sleeping patterns, sleep apnea and chronic fatigue can increase the risk of binge eating disorder or vice versa. To make matters worse, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a busy year when achieving healthy sleep is more difficult.
. Unlike bulimia nervosa, episodes of binge eating are not followed by excessive exercise. In fact, many binge eaters place heavy limitations on and exhibit fears associated with exercise. These fears and limitations may be heightened during the holidays when the general public lessens its activity levels and eating and drinking more than ‘normal’ is more socially accepted, and even encouraged.
For individuals with binge eating disorder, Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season doesn’t have to be an intimidating or frightening time—and it shouldn’t be. As Chevese Turner, founder of the Binge Eating Disorder Association says: 
Honor your journey by eating the foods you want, listening to your body’s cues, avoid engaging in ‘fat talk,’ and keeping your support systems close-at-hand. The food you eat and your size should not define you, your worth, or your ability to enjoy the holidays.
With so many friends and family members around, it can be easy to allow their opinions about what foods should be eaten and how much to creep in. Listen only to yourself during Thanksgiving dinner. If you feel moments of stress or loss of control, slow down and try to remind yourself about the true importance of this holiday—not food, but thankfulness.
It’s inevitable to hear comments like, “I’m going to gain so much weight from this meal!” or, “If I eat that, I’ll be starving myself for days.” These are not healthy comments for a binge eater to hear, or take part in. Try to avoid these conversations, and go back to listening to yourself.
Support is imperative when coping with an eating disorder. Is there someone in your family or circle of friends who you trust, and with whom you can confide? Enlist that person as your Thanksgiving Confidant should you need outside support before, during or after Thanksgiving Day. There are also many online support groups, as well as Eating Disorders Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and other wonderful support meetings in nearly every town across the country.
There’s great news for people who suffer with binge, compulsive and emotional eating disorders: most of the people who receive treatment for these conditions recover, create healthy relationships with food and experience more strength and empowerment than they ever thought possible. Be thankful for this, and that help and hope is available to you right now. It’s Thanksgiving, after all.