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"I was so focused on my body or what I was eating" | Thanksgiving can trigger people struggling with eating disorders

Most people think of the holidays as a time to enjoy a good meal with loved ones. But for many people, holiday food can trigger intense anxiety.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Thanksgiving is centered around food. Overeating is expected and usually encouraged, but this holiday can cause anxiety for people living with an eating disorder.

Nearly 30 million Americans will struggle with eating disorders during their lifetime. Local dietitian Kaitlyn Cupples said she was one of them. Holidays like Thanksgiving can be triggering for those struggling with disorders like anorexia Nervosa or binge-eating disorder.

"The memories that we were creating, I didn't really feel a part of them because I was so focused on my body or what I was eating," she said. "In my recovery journey from an eating disorder, holidays were a really stressfully time. I think there's this narrative that I've been speaking of where we have to restrict or earn the meals.”

She had a food restriction eating habit through high school and college she said. She said she would regularly withhold food from herself, starving herself so that she could enjoy holiday meals with less anxiety.

Now, her restrictive eating behavior is under control she said. She said she understands how hard it is for people with eating disorders to accept that they need help. That’s why she works to help others.

"The first and very foremost thing is to not change the way that you eat on Thanksgiving Day to compensate for Thanksgiving dinner," she said.

Too much change can be overwhelming for someone with an eating disorder, she said. People who know others with an eating disorder should make sure they advocate for their wellbeing during Thanksgiving. Interrupt conversations that can cause anxiety, like talking about diets.

"Just be like, 'Hey, let’s talk about something else.' Or say, 'That doesn't feel great for me or maybe someone else at this table,' and just kind of taking the eyes off of them," Cupples said. "Whether it's being the person that eats with them or being the person that portions their plate for them. Being the person that sits outside while other people are talking about how guilty they feel or the diet they're going on. Just being available [is important]."

Eating disorders aren't easy to talk about -- but they are life-threatening. That's why she said family members across the holiday table are usually the first ones to reach out to a person, since there may be existing camaraderie between them.

Anyone struggling with anxiety centered around food and eating can call or text the National Eating Disorders Helpline at (800) 931-2237. Online, people can also find assessments to help people identify problems in their eating habits. Then, they can reach out for help so they can stop struggling with food.