Here’s what we’re NOT going to discuss here: How to eat healthy over Thanksgiving and not gain weight.
Even though Thanksgiving is only one day, the eating portion lasts nearly a week in some households. And I for one, do not expect you to skip the pumpkin pie in the name of fitness. I want you to look good naked but I also want you to enjoy pie.
I love pie. Especially if it’s pumpkin.
Anywho, this post is not about healthy eating, it’s about reality. And the reality is that we like to eat virtually everything on the Thanksgiving table until we pass out in a food coma, only to wake up from our slumber and down more pie with more wine until we black out.
It’s okay, too. This is a judgement free zone. But tell me this, when have you ever devoured a Thanksgiving meal in this way and actually felt good about yourself the next day (or week)? Doesn’t it strike you as odd that we can diet or “eat clean” all year long but one day out of the year we feel justified to binge a month’s worth of food in one sitting? Then we do penance at the gym the rest of the week or worst, say ‘fuck it’ and just binge and drink through the rest of the holidays until January 1 because why do better the last month of the year? You’ve been so good all 11.5 months!!
(Note: This is not a guilt trip. In fact, I’m asking not just for you, but for me, too.)
We all have a funny relationship with food, much like many of us have a certain kind of relationship with money or our parents. We develop this relationship as children and carry it with us into adulthood. Despite being one of the most well-fed countries on the planet, we’ve learned to associate Thanksgiving with this one-time-only food buffet that must be inhaled, devoured and destroyed like it’s our last meal ever. And I get it; Thanksgiving food is delicious. You get multiple sides, a massive turkey, multiple desserts to taste, and the love, time and care that goes into making these meals is nearly unheard of any other time of year. But is this an excuse to binge and go all out?
We look at all the options in front of us and think “This happens only once a year, I better try everything!”, or “Family dinners are never this good, better eat up!”, or “Grandma made her special pecan pie, I don’t want to miss out or offend her.” Yet, is all this FOMO (fear of missing out) really helping us? When we combine this scarcity mindset with FOMO and food, we get really wrapped up in eating for the wrong reasons. I’m a firm believer that food is meant for enjoyment as much as fuel, but approaching it with FOMO and scarcity serves only to condition our poor habits and our poor relationship around food. Kind of like this guy, CK Louis:
Setting yourself up for success over the holiday
In thinking of all this – our mindset and habits around food, our approach to Thanksgiving meals and our willingness to grow and develop positive habits for the long haul, I’ve created a framework to guide you to a successful, non-bloat Thanksgiving meal.
Step 1: Acknowledge your current relationship with food
Much like AA, acknowledging our problem is the first time to recovery. Take inventory of your past relationship with food. Are you a chronic dieter? Do you fall into the trap of eating perfect Monday through Friday only to binge Saturday and Sunday? Do you struggle with specific foods that “trigger” binges and overeating? Or perhaps you stand on the opposite end of the spectrum: You don’t give food much thought at all. You may not care about the quality of what you eat, the ingredients in it, how often you eat…you may simply eat whatever is in front of you when you’re hungry and so you don’t die. It doesn’t really matter where you stand. Just know ahead of time where you’re at before heading to the next step.
Step 2: Embrace #moderation365
#Moderation365 advocates that we eat whatever we want, whenever we want in moderation all year long, and quit obsessing over food. I borrowed this concept from Jill Coleman and she explains it brilliantly:
I want to eat the same today as every other day. I don’t want to be a “good little dieter,” and have to earn my cheat [meals]. I want to eat healthy and do my best every single day and never feel deprived and never feel like I have to do penance and never feel as though my eating is dictated by rules and numbers.
Can I get an AMEN?!?
I know that Thanksgiving is a special day; heck it’s my favorite friggin’ holiday! But so many of us treat it like our last cheat meal on Earth and then beat ourselves up days after for overeating. Instead, we can choose #moderation365 and approach the Thanksgiving table like any other meal out of any ordinary day and eat to satisfaction and not discomfort. That doesn’t mean give up eating the best dish on the table or skipping dessert. All it means is “Hey, this dinner is just like Monday’s dinner but with better sides. I will eat my protein, my veggies, my healthy fats until 80-90% full, and have a piece of Grandma’s pie after and play video games with my cousins.” That’s it. No bingeing, no freak out, no food coma, no stress about what to eat and what to skip, no penance at the gym the next day trying to “work off the calories.”
Step 3: Plan ahead
I admit I’m a little OCD about planning everything in advance but hear me out. If you’re already planning your meals during the week (good for you!), or mapping out your grocery list before you shop (so smart!), or looking at the dinner menu at a new restaurant before you book reservations than you can plan ahead for Thanksgiving.
Ask the host(ess) about the menu to get an idea of what kind of food will be served or what others may bring to dinner. Size up the beverages – is it all soda and alcohol? Just get an idea of what will come up at the dinner table and see what adjustments or contributions you can make to have healthier options available. For instance, my family always has rice and beans at Thanksgiving (because we’re Brazilian and that’s what we love) along with the holiday food staples. However, I rarely eat legumes or white rice and white potatoes make me feel sluggish. So, I may bring either cauliflower mashed “potatoes”, cauliflower rice, or a sweet potato dish. This gives everyone a healthier and tasty alternative and it aligns with how I eat the rest of the year. This isn’t offensive, it’s strategic and I’ve never met a host(ess) who declined that someone bring a dish of their own. The key here is know what you’re walking into, make adjustments as needed, splurge where you want (i.e. I am having pumpkin pie) and enjoy your meal guilt-free and shame-free.
Step 4: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after
If you binge on anything over Thanksgiving weekend let it be water. Getting hydrated beforehand ensures you don’t dry up like a raisin drinking too much alcohol and end up with the worst hangover ever. Drinking throughout Thanksgiving day means you feel full longer and you don’t overeat. Staying hydrated long after Thanksgiving is just common sense – you can’t live off wine coolers the rest of the week just because your uncle left them behind after Thanksgiving. Drink more water than you drink alcohol this week and I guarantee you’ll feel less bloated, have less of a hangover, feel more energy and less fatigued overall.
Step 5: Be grateful
This is a no-brainer. Express gratitude for what you have and where you are in your journey. The more grateful we are for the little things, the more of the bigger, happier things we invite into our lives. Plus, it’s Thanksgiving. Be thankful.