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Thanksgiving feasts may feel more frightening, less festive for people with eating disorders, WVU expert says

smiling woman, long hair swept to the left side, butternut colored jacket, print scarf

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

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The pumpkin pies, buttery rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy that make Thanksgiving a treat for many Americans may actually make the holiday feel more like a threat to those with eating disorders. According to Elizabeth Claydon, an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at West Virginia University, the feasting associated with Thanksgiving can exacerbate the unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors that characterize eating disorders.


“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 intergenerational 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.” — Elizabeth Claydon, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at West Virginia University

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.

 National Eating Disorder Helpline: 800-931-2237.

WVU students: Text WVU to the Crisis Text Line at 741741; others, text HOME.



CONTACT: Elizabeth Claydon
Assistant Professor, Social and Behavioral Sciences
WVU School of Public Health


Jessica Wilmoth
Communications Specialist
WVU School of Public Health

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