Don’t Be Afraid of Thanksgiving

by | Nov 25, 2013

Photo by St0rmz

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!

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13 Responses to “Don’t Be Afraid of Thanksgiving”

  1. Courtney says:

    I am so grateful for this post today!!! It was exactly what I needed to read. I was feeling so stressed just as you describe but your perspective has made me feel completely enlightened and able to look at this time differently. I feel a complete shift after reading this. Thank you.

  2. Kathryn says:

    This is by far the best article about how to “handle” Thanksgiving that I’ve read yet. I also just finished Foodist (brilliant!) so now I do feel armed with the tools to enjoy Thanksgiving in a healthier, but not restrictive, way. I shared the article on Calorie Count, where I enjoy logging my foods and learning to be healthier with my online comrades.

  3. Joe Garma says:

    A fine balanced post, Darya.

    I guess your bottom line could simply be, “Just stay sane”.

    Surely, just by tuning into that part of us that’s mindful can serve to get more out of less when it comes to stacking the food on the Thanksgiving plate.

    There are tactics to use that could help a person eat less during this Holiday season.

    Eat the protein first is one such idea. The turkey, for instance, can help satiate you before you pile into the starches and desserts.

    Another idea is to arrive to the table pre-satiated. I just wrote about two ways to do that http://www.garmaonhealth.com/diet/simple-recipe-stop-holiday-binge-eating

    Finally, your buddy Tim Ferriss extolls a technique to more fully utilize the extra calories that are inevitably consumed during the holidays. It involves certain pre and post dinner exercises and supplements which are described in the article linked to above.

    By the way, that pumpkin pie in the pic above sure looks tasty.

    Yep.

    -Joe

  4. Jen says:

    This post is great! I am much more mindful of my eating habits all around. I am actually excited about Thanksgiving this year. In the past I have piled my plate with just about everything, including things I don’t even like to eat. This year my plan is to only take my favorites and save everything else for later if I choose. Just knowing there are no strict restrictions is making a big difference for me.

  5. Koren says:

    Loved your book and your approach to holidays. Realistic, sensible, and totally doable!

  6. John says:

    Hi,
    Speaking of Pumpkin Pie, as a non American(Aussie)would someone like to post a recipe for traditional Pumpkin Pie so I can see why it is held in such high esteem.

    Cheers,
    John

  7. Kari says:

    My recipe, for John or anyone who wants an idiot proof pie recipe

    Pumpkin pie… we were just talking about inability to cook for one. Well here’s my inability to cook for ONE FAMILY cropping up. This recipe makes a pie and a half, which annoyed me to no end so I doubled it and always make three pies. This has yet to be a problem. Doubled recipe from memory is as follows…

    Two cans pumpkin or four cups cooked sugar pumpkin puree

    Two cans evaporated milk

    Four eggs slightly beaten

    A cup and a half brown sugar

    1\4 tsp each ginger, nutmeg, salt (I add more nutmeg by a bit)

    2 tsp cinnamon but let’s get real. Add cinnamon till you think your house is gonna smell absurd when this gets baking…

    One pie shell. I buy mine frozen cuz I’m a slacker.

    Preheat oven to 425. Combine ingredients til thoroughly blended. Pour into pie shells. It will be very fluid. Bake pies for fifteen minutes then reduce to 350 degrees farenheit to finish baking, another forty five minutes or more, til a fork inserted in the middle comes out clean.

    There are a lot of recipes. Some add cloves, which I think overpower. Some use a different sweetener or condensed milk but they all look roughly like that.

    Chill, then serve with whipped cream. Room temp is fine, but they don’t maintain their shape well when warm.

    • Kari says:

      Scuze me; make that three pie shells. The original recipe called for one, of course, and the memory of reading it evidently attacked my brain just now.

    • John says:

      Thank-you Kari, I shall give it a go. I’m glad you told me about serving temp as I imagined it to be heated and eaten with ice-cream, how wrong was I.

      Looks like a nice summer desert.

      Cheers,
      John

      • Kari says:

        D’oh! I was tired from work last night. Please also double the ginger, nutmeg, and salt. I don’t know where my brain was. That’s how foolproof this dessert is, if I have always managed to make it turn out well and this is how well I think. (Darya? Is there a way to edit that to half teaspoons of spice and three pie shells!)

        I think it makes a good summer dessert. I use canned pumpkin out of season and my friends make fun of me and then eat it anyway. You can warm it up a bit if you want but it will be softer, and you can’t eat it right out of the oven without making something of a mess of it. I hope you like it. :)

  8. John says:

    Hi Kari,

    Thanks again for the update, I shall see what I can come up with. And likewise my spelling did let me down also cause I notice I’m having a desert instead of a dessert. :-)

    Cheers,
    John

  9. Kristina says:

    These are great reminders, Darya. I love how your articles always emphasize that food is your ally, not your enemy.
    I’m glad you also mentioned, at the end, the literal meaning of “Thanksgiving”. You don’t even need to be religious to realize and appreciate what plentiful times we’re living in, with more and better food choices than ever before, and most of us will never know what starvation is. Our food and the earth it grows on truly is something to be thankful for. We shouldn’t dread Thanksgiving, but – as you say – see it as an opportunity. To realize how lucky we are!

  10. Darya,
    I like your balanced, think things out beforehand approach to sensible holiday eating.
    The temptation are there with every gathering but with the good mindset we should make it through December okay.
    – Landon

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