Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tip: Slow Down

by | Nov 14, 2011

Photo by Photo Monkey

Worrying about carbs, calories and diets is one of the most unproductive things you can do on a holiday that celebrates thankfulness. Instead of giving you a list of healthy side dishes or tips on how to cut out calories, this Thanksgiving I offer just a single piece of advice: slow down.

The actual content of your Thanksgiving dinner matters very little in the grand scheme of things. A few hundred calories here or there can make a difference when projected over weeks and years, but for one meal the impact is negligible. Your body will adjust naturally and you’ll burn off those extra calories the next day, so don’t worry about it.

But for people trying to get healthy or lose weight, not worrying about food can feel very strange. There is always the fear that if you aren’t vigilant and conscious of what and how much you eat you may gorge yourself stupid and all your hopes of fitting into your favorite jeans by the end of the year will be ruined.

Overeating is certainly a possibility when food anxiety is a constant force in your life, but Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to start getting over it. Really. It may seem counterintuitive that such a food-forward holiday can be stress free, but let’s not forget that the real point of Thanksgiving isn’t turkey or pie, but being thankful.

Since most of us won’t be harvesting our own meals this year (hats off to anyone who is), it is silly to pretend this particular dinner requires more thankfulness than any other meal we eat. Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce are tradition, but do not necessarily reflect our 21st century needs and values.

With the emergence of modern media, there are other essential pieces of our lives that we can no longer afford to take for granted. Free time is one. Exercise is another. But most important of all these is our real, human, non-Twitter relationships, particularly those with family and friends. It is far too easy to neglect these basic elements of our existence when we have so many other obligations and distractions, but failure to nurture them can severely affect our overall quality of life.

If you care about your health and want to keep your eating under control on Thanksgiving, why not focus your attention on strengthening relationships and spending time with the people you care about? Instead of worrying about yourself and what you want to accomplish, ask people about themselves and discuss mutual interests.

Let food be part of the celebration, but not the purpose of your day.

Once food is no longer the center of attention the only thing you need to keep in mind is to eat slowly–it is pretty tough to overeat if you are biting and chewing at a snail’s pace.

Slow eating helps you eat less food and appreciate it more. It also helps you make wiser food choices, since decisions about what to put on your plate are made less impulsively.

But slow eating does require some conscious effort. If you are in the habit of shoveling food in your mouth without taking time to put down your fork and chew (or breathe), it is easy to slip back into this pattern. Also, if people around you are all guzzling their food in a fury, you might feel a natural compulsion to keep pace and match their eating speed.

I’ve written before about how to become a slow eater, but at large family dinners some of these tactics can be particularly useful. Start by actively trying to keep conversations engaged while you eat. Chewing and talking are (hopefully) mutually exclusive, so the more you converse the longer it will take you to get through your meal.

Making an effort to put your fork down between bites is another effective way to slow your pace at the dining table. To give your hands something to do between bites, reach for your glass and take regular sips of your water (it is best not to rely exclusively on wine for this tactic) or wipe your lips with your napkin.

And don’t forget to chew.

Trying to eat slowly is much easier than trying to summon the will power to skip the mashed potatoes and biscuits. And slowly savoring the foods you love is far more enjoyable than inventing a clever recipe to replace the sugar or fat in your pumpkin pie.

Spend time with people, enjoy your meal and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

How do you approach health and food on Turkey Day?

Originally published November 23, 2009.

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6 Responses to “Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tip: Slow Down”

  1. Thanksgiving is not my favorite meal, but I have a weakness for the stuffing. This year I am changing the whole meal to chicken, bread salad, and a lot of greens with a beautiful chocolate dessert that one only needs a sliver. I will enjoy and feel better for it and there will be no left overs. Good news is we have three days to detox body. Brussels sprouts are a great detoxifier. We have a few traditions also to run on thursday morning and shop (or window shop) all day Friday to counteract any overdoing.

    When you said slow down, I thought it would be good to remind people to drive safely and not rush to get anywhere… many on the road.

  2. Matt Shook says:

    Usually I plan on having a really healthy breakfast (and lunch if possible) before heading out to a holiday feast. My reasoning is two-fold…for one, I get at least one really health meal under my belt for the day (which also gets me in a good mood). Secondly, I won’t show up to the event famished and chow down on those insanely-addictive kettle chips. Actually, I lied…it’s three-fold. Eating earlier enables an herbivore enjoy the good stuff (salads, vegetable dishes, homemade rolls, wine, dessert) and still feel good and sociable at the dinner.

    They other really good practice I started at my family holidays is a post-meal walk around the block. Not only is it great to help kick-start our digestion systems and ward off food comas, but walking and talking with my family is what I believe the day should center around. (I could care less about the imperialistic myths and football games.) Turning off the TV and playing board/card/poker games made my family holidays a hell of a lot better. 😉

  3. Daniel Cowan says:

    Hi! First, your website is great, lots of very interesting posts, and just overall seems really good-natured, I like it.

    This isn’t about this post, but just wondering if you had any ideas on something I’ve been wondering about.

    I stopped eating flour and sugar a while ago, and it is like night and day, I felt much better after doing this, so I started looking into the low-GI diet books to try to understand this more.

    One thing that I always notice is that white rice is always a food that is to be avoided.

    I’ve also read in Michael Pollan’s books that any traditional, pre-Industrial diet is likely fairly healthy.

    So how is it that white rice is so popular in Asia, and yet obesity does not seem to be a major problem in these societies. I’ve spent time around Burmese people, for instance, and they eat a lot of white rice and they seem to be pretty healthy overall.

    (If this is too complicated to answer, don’t worry about it, lol, just something that I’ve been wondering about and thought of reading through your blog. Thanks again!)

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks so much Daniel, and that is a great question. I think you hit on a really interesting point which is that if you believe the low-carb gurus at face value, then any amount of carbohydrate at all should create an obesogenic environment. But of course it doesn’t.

      I think it is important to remember that our bodies are equipped to deal with carbohydrate digestion as long as the quantities are reasonable. And I think this is the biggest difference between American and Asian cultures. A half cup of white rice per meal will never make anyone fat. But a giant plate of nachos followed by 3-4 pieces of pizza and a slice of cheesecake or half bag of chips and you have problems.

      Michael Pollan’s most recent argument is that the healthiness of food is largely dependent upon our food culture that provides structure and guidelines for what, when and how much to eat. These have all been broken down in the US, and this may be a big part of the problem. I agree with this to some extent, and touch on it a bit in this article: Obesity, Bacon Worship and The Power of Food Culture.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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