June 11, 2024
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June 11, 2024
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In a Broken World, Maybe We Can Start by Healing Ourselves

Thanksgiving is not going to be the same this year. Nothing has been the same this year. And yet with every marker of the seasons we all hope that perhaps by the next big holiday or start to the month that we can be together. That we can have some semblance of an experience like we did before March struck. And still, here we are. Preparing for Thanksgiving and needing to reconsider plans that perhaps we’ve held year to year.

Thanksgiving has a reputation for being a holiday all about food and celebration when in reality, the holiday is meant to be about gratitude, family and friendships. I recall when I was in treatment and others would speak about their fears of Thanksgiving and I used to internally shake my head, noting that we have Thanksgiving once per week in the Jewish world; Shabbat shares some similarities with Thanksgiving on the superficial level with the courses and guests and festivities.

Holidays and gatherings in most cultures have an emphasis on food and yet there is such special attention paid to this aspect of Thanksgiving. The feast. The appearance of the food and the number of courses.

This is not bad. To be clear, the focus and excitement around food is not a negative one. Food can be exciting! It is meant not to be feared. This becomes complicated when we think of the inherent diet culture present in our world and the way that food often is not viewed as neutral or exciting within that culture.

Instead, the food becomes judged. We become judged. By ourselves and others who make statements about their own experience, which we know is also about ours. The friend who talks about feeling guilty eating the meal is showing you—whether consciously or not—that maybe you should feel guilty too. The person who talks about his or her fear of gaining weight from eating all the courses is showing all the people in bigger bodies that they should feel ashamed, because their appearance is feared. It makes others question whether they should eat or if they are being judged by eating and—gasp!—maybe even enjoying the meal.

We talk about Thanksgiving but there is this unspoken experience wherein food is “explained away.” People prepare the food but judge themselves for eating, or they compensate by purging through exercise or other means. There is a lack of permission and acceptance to simply eat. What a novel concept. To eat the food and note our sense of worth and self-love beyond how this food will impact the body. To practice this acceptance of people in all shapes and sizes. This is a simple concept: Accept others and accept yourself. And yet each time I discuss this there is outrage and questioning about health, etc.

But how funny—that we can’t simply say, “Yes—I’d like to achieve this. But it’s hard. Can you help me?” Instead we call to research—information that is often not based on actual considerations of people of different cultures. For instance, BMI—a useless measurement—was created not for the masses but for specific individuals and did not account for different body types.

So I’d like to encourage you to take a breath. See if you can start in a place where you, too, would like to move toward acceptance of yourself and others. Respond to your own judgmental thoughts and the thoughts of others from this place.

Prepare for Thanksgiving and Chanukah in this semi-broken world, from a place of connection to your emotional experience, without the veil of food acting as a means of communication. It is all right to grieve. It is all right to feel anxious and angry and scared. You are not alone.

But pouring your energy into internal judgments and body judgments and using food solely as a means of coping will ultimately hurt you and those around you.

We have so much to feel. Can you imagine if we all let one another feel and support each other in sharing our experiences? Not simply saying, “I’m fine” or talking about the need to lose the weight gained during quarantine. Instead to talk about how frustrating this has felt.

Yes, some of you have done this. And yes, some people feel it must be all or nothing—no one can change anything so why bother talking about how we actually feel?

Let’s repeat that again. Why bother talking if nothing can change? Perhaps because it is not always about results and a fix. Perhaps because without this we become even more disconnected.

We have such power to remain intact as a community of growth, non-judgment and understanding. To help heal one another. To prevent.

I have seen a significant rise in the number of individuals struggling with food and body image issues since the start of COVID-19. Imagine if we reflected on and verbalized our feelings without shame and held a space so that food did not become a language of suffering.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us reflect on where we start from, and try, individually and as a community, to start from a place of tolerance and love.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works in private practice virtually and sees clients in New York and New Jersey struggling with mental health concerns, body image dissatisfaction, eating disorders, grief and difficulty through life transitions. Temimah specializes in working within the Jewish community and speaks about the above areas nationally. To learn more or to set up a consultation, visit www.temimah.com.

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