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Life, Love, and Loss: Reflections on Thanksgiving and Eating Disorders

My friend, Annemarie, recently died of anorexia nervosa at the age of 34. Although I knew that she was quite ill, her death still shook me to my core and made me think about my own struggles and triumphs with anorexia.

Annemarie was one of those people you couldn’t help but love. She had an infectious, quirky sense of humor and enjoyed hanging out with people and listening to her beloved Grateful Dead. She also was an upbeat person, and was a strong source of support for me. Not too long before her death, she sent me a text message that read, “Always look on the positive side.”

Millions of people will gather together with family and loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving. I want to stay home and curl up with a good book. However, Annemarie would insist that I spend the day with my family and friends.

And so that is what I plan to do.people-around-thanksgiving-table1Thanksgiving can feel like a minefield for people with eating disorders. You are surrounded by all this food, and that can be frightening no matter which eating disorder you have.

I know many people within the eating disorders recovery community say eating disorders are not really about food. I happen to disagree with that bit of conventional wisdom. If it isn’t about the food, then why am I still so afraid of food? Why does the over-abundance of Thanksgiving frighten me each year? Why do I sometimes still struggle to eat? Why does my friend with bulimia still struggle not to purge after eating?

I think they mean to say that the heart of eating disorders is not about food. There are many different issues and problems surrounding eating disorders. But each one of us with an eating disorder has to learn to navigate his or her way around food as part of the recovery process. There are simply too many food-related life events, and each one of us needs to know how to create a healthy relationship with food in order to be fully recovered.

Thanksgiving often ends up feeling like one gigantic test. It is the ACT to beat all ACTs, the law school exam from hell, and the test that you fail repeatedly in your dreams night after night wrapped up in one day.

But you won’t fail, and neither will I. I think it helps to remember that food is not the heart of Thanksgiving. Family and loved ones are  the heart of Thanksgiving. Sit down with an aunt you haven’t seen for a while, and ask her how she is doing. Chat with your grandmother, and listen to what is going on in her life. Talk with your sister, and have fun reminiscing about when you both were kids.

Step outside your eating disorder, and put food in its proper place. Enjoy what you eat and allow it to nourish you, but don’t allow it to control you anymore.

As I sit here and write these words, I think about my friend, Annemarie. She is one of many beautiful people who have lost their lives to eating disorders, and it breaks my heart to even think about it.

However, there also are many people with eating disorders who are able to recover. One friend, Sarah, has battled anorexia and bulimia for years. She recently earned her bachelor’s degree and joined the AmeriCorps and is living her dream by serving in Alaska. Another friend, Courtney, also battled bulimia and anorexia. She is now doing well, has a boyfriend and will graduate from college in two years.

I want each one of you to know that you also can recover from your eating disorder. Let’s celebrate whatever stage of recovery we are in tomorrow, making Thanksgiving a true day of thanks and the start of becoming free from our eating disorders.

I still remember Annemarie’s last words to me. She begged me to keep eating and stay with recovery. She said she knew I could recover and that all I had to do is believe in myself. I will remember, Annemarie.

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This entry was posted in About Angela, Family Relationships, Friendships, Holidays, Recovery and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Life, Love, and Loss: Reflections on Thanksgiving and Eating Disorders

  1. Liz says:

    My condolences on the loss of your dear friend Annemarie. I used to think eating disorders were only anorexia and bulemia then discovered I am a compulsive binge eater (non purger) which has followed me since childhood. It is scary for me, the holidays and so many have little idea how I fear on the inside seeing all that food.
    Your metaphor on the minefield is spot on and I so relate. It is not easy no matter which ED one has.
    Peace,Love and Light

  2. Angela E. Gambrel says:

    Liz,
    Thank you for your kind words. As you have learned, there are many types of eating disorders. I have several friends who struggle with binge eating disorder and have tried drastic measures, including surgery, to recover from it. Binge eating disorder has not yet been recognized by the medical world as a legitimate disorder. However, the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) will include binge eating disorder as a legitimate diagnosis, opening treatment to millions who could not get treatment before because insurance companies refused to pay for treatment of binge eating disorder.

    The metaphor of a minefield immediately struck me, because as you said, it is not easy no matter which eating disorder you are struggling with. Each of us has to face food and deal with our own personal fears surrounding food in order to recover. I still panic when it comes to food and food-related events, but I am working on it and it is getting better.

    I wish you all the best, and please let me know how you are doing!

    Angela

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