When I was a teenager Thanksgiving was my least favorite holiday. Not only did I hate that it was centered almost exclusively around food, it also signified the beginning of a holiday season filled with cookies, cakes, pies, pastries and all my other sworn enemies.
Thanksgiving meant needing to ramp up my willpower not just for a day, or a four-day weekend, but for the next six weeks. I was terrified.
For anyone who consistently worries about their weight, Thanksgiving can be scary. Fear of falling off the wagon, undoing all the work you put in over the summer, and ending the year worse off than you started is pretty close to your worst nightmare.
It’s daunting. But it doesn’t need to be.
If you’ve decided this year to become a foodist, this Thanksgiving will be a challenge as well as an opportunity. It’s a chance for you to put your new healthstyle to the test, and find out how resilient you’ve become.
As usual, the biggest challenge will be your mindset going in. If you approach Thanksgiving with the mindset of control and scarcity, you’ll be forced to rely on your willpower to get through the equivalent of a Black Diamond level food obstacle course.
But if you approach it with the mindset of making life awesome, a strong sense of your healthstyle values and the willingness to practice mindfulness are all you need to feel good about yourself on Monday.
On Thanksgiving, a hardcore dieter might try to summon a reserve of willpower to resist the piles of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and desserts, praying for the strength to make it through the weekend. A more realistic dieter may realize that resistance is futile and instead tell himself he’ll try to “practice moderation” and hope for the best.
We both know how this ends.
For foodists, the goal isn’t restriction and control, but enjoyment and balance. We know that Thanksgiving is a once-a-year time to celebrate and be thankful, and are excited for the opportunity to share a delicious meal with family and friends.
Foodists aren’t afraid of Thanksgiving, because we aren’t fighting a losing battle.
Foodists understand that on Thanksgiving most of the food is homemade, so if anything it is easier than normal to eat well. As always, we will be sure to eat a substantial amount of vegetables with dinner, along with some protein and starch. Because there is no rush to get through dinner quickly, we will have plenty of time to chew our food thoroughly and savor every bite. And since it is a truly special occasion, we’ll probably indulge in some dessert after dinner, completely guilt-free.
Ironically, when you’re afraid of over-indulging you’re more likely to actually do it than if you have a more casual attitude toward food. Research has shown time and again that people who intentionally try to restrict their eating end up consuming far more when they finally give in than if they had just allowed themselves to eat freely from the beginning.
Since on Thanksgiving you KNOW you don’t have the willpower to dodge temptations for four straight days, why set yourself up for inevitable failure and guaranteed overeating?
When you tell yourself you can eat whatever you want and simply rely on your normal habits to make balanced choices and eat mindfully, then Thanksgiving isn’t any more tempting or threatening than any other special occasion. Sure it is an indulgence, but if your home court habits are strong and effective then you have nothing to worry about. Enjoying yourself should never make you feel bad.
If you’re highly triggered around Thanksgiving food (out of habit) and have a more difficult time than usual not overeating, make an extra effort to practice mindful eating. Eat what you want (making sure you’re clear on what exactly that is), savor every bite, and stop when you’re full.
If you find it difficult to stop when you know you’re full, or if you find yourself constantly thinking about a certain indulgent treat (even if you’ve already had some), tell yourself that you can “have it later” instead of trying to convince yourself that you shouldn’t eat it. As I explain in Foodist, this technique frees your mind from the internal conflict that arises when you try to deprive yourself of something you want.
Even if you do overeat on Turkey Day, freaking out and succumbing to the what-the-hell effect for the rest of the weekend isn’t necessary. Other home court habits can be used to keep you on track and minimize damage. In my family we have the tradition of taking lots of “nature walks” during the Thanksgiving holiday to enjoy the beautiful autumn weather.
A foodist loves food as much as anyone, but Thanksgiving shouldn’t be entirely about food. It is also about being thankful for what we have and the people we love. Remember, strong social bonds are more important to your health and happiness than nutrition or exercise, so foodists wants to give as much attention to our families and friends as we do to our plates on Turkey Day.
Eat, drink and be merry, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!