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Student Series: Learning to Love Thanksgiving    

Student Series: Learning to Love Thanksgiving

Art by Kayla Homenok

By Julia Roth 

Content Warning: Eating Disorders

The leaves shift from vibrant green to shades of sunset red and orange. Fall is here in Connecticut, and that means the holiday of Thanksgiving is near. 

In all honesty, I have never loved Thanksgiving, and I have always had a complicated relationship with it. I struggle to understand why we dedicate one specific day to showing gratitude and spending time with loved ones. Shouldn't we practice these behaviors everyday? At Thanksgiving dinner, when I sit at the table filled with delectable dishes and crisp, fall-scented candles, my heart pounds fast. I know that soon I will have to share something I’m thankful for, but how can I merely choose one thing? 

This is not the only challenging aspect about the holiday, though. 

While Thanksgiving is a day centered around love and gratitude, it is just as much about food. Your Aunt Rachel spends hours sweating in the kitchen whipping up her stuffing; your grandma Susan proudly presents, with a gleaming smile on her face, a pumpkin pie. Sharing laughter and stories around the table, you watch your little cousin’s eyes light up as he tries all the new and exciting foods. And if you’re listening closely, you’ll even hear that one family member make a comment about how today, the calories “do not count.

Calories – count – counting calories – shoot. “How am I supposed to count the calories in my Thanksgiving dinner?” I’ll think to myself. I’m not the one preparing the food. If I don’t know how many calories will be in the meal, then should I eat before? I wonder what foods people will bring; can I bring my own? There are no so-called “healthy” options; all I see is butter, sugar, fat. High calorie this, high calorie that, lots and lots of calories. 

I bring myself to eat the meal, but I only taste thoughts of guilt and fear. Julia is not here – she is hiding, trying to hold back tears. 

Before I know it, the table has quieted down, and the night has come to a close. In bed, my head hits the pillow, but the food-guilt keeps me lying awake. How much weight did I just gain from this one meal? I wonder, telling myself that tomorrow, I will be “better.” I’ll even go to SoulCycle! I’ve never been before, but I’ve heard it is crazy-cardio.

*** 

Back row, 10:00 am, I sit on an uncomfortable bike in the pitch black. “Welcome to the 2019 TurkeyBurn! We will most definitely be burning off the turkey” says the instructor. Laughter and claps fill the room; I guess we all have the same goal in mind. 

Cool, salty sweat drips, my face is on fire, and soon enough my private snapchat story shares that “that 1.5 hour soul cycle class the day after Thanksgiving was THE move.” 

Legs shaking, I walk out of the studio, unaware that my Thanksgiving would never look like that again. 

*** 

Four months later, in March of 2020, I began eating disorder recovery and realized the toxicity in all my behaviors and mindsets. I worked in secret, during the quarantine stage of the pandemic, on healing my relationship with food, my body, and exercise. I learned that it is not normal to fear food and that calories are not the enemy. Food is not earned nor should it be seen as something to be burned off. Ultimately, when I returned to school for my junior year of high school, I was a new Julia. 

When Thanksgiving 2020 arrived, I promised myself that it would be different. To hold myself accountable, I wrote a post on my Instagram blog. I claimed, “Even though I may eat a big dinner, I will not restrict myself during the day. While eating the meal, I will not feel guilty, but will enjoy the food. I will laugh and love with my family. The next day I may workout, but it will not be to ‘burn’ off food; it will be because it makes me feel good and strong. I know these are ambitious goals, but every day I challenge myself more and more. Will I still be scared? Probably. Will I let my fear affect me to the extent that my day is ruined? No way.”

I followed through with these goals and, in the end, enjoyed the holiday. I tasted the delicious food without guilt and fear clouding my palette. I engaged in conversations without fighting back tears. I laughed, I loved, and I realized that maybe Thanksgiving isn’t so bad after all. It is okay to dedicate a day to gratitude and it is okay to also make it centered around food. 

My turn at the table to share what I’m grateful for rolled around. With a smile on my face, I said “I am grateful to be living this moment, fully in the present.” 

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