Permission to Enjoy Thanksgiving

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From a food perspective, Thanksgiving is a day of feasting. Merriam-Webster defines feast as “a special meal with large amounts of food and drink.” While the holiday is intended to be a celebration of gratitude for the abundance in our lives, the abundance of food can be overwhelming. This can be especially true if you have specific food rules you are following in the name of losing weight, eating healthy, cleansing, or training for an athletic event. Perhaps you have anxiety over losing control of what you will eat on Thanksgiving.

You are not alone if turkey day has you stressed out. I’m here to encourage you to allow yourself to enjoy rather than stress. Here are some tips and tools for you to use to feel in control while allowing yourself to savor the Thanksgiving meal.

  • Remember it is just one day. You will not blow your healthy eating in just one meal or even one day. Avoid the trap of feeling like you’ve failed and therefore give up on your goals. Tomorrow is always a new day.
  • Don’t starve yourself to “save up” the calories for Thanksgiving dinner. If a person eats when they are ravenously hungry, they eat faster, with less awareness, and ultimately in excess. Feed yourself a satisfying, balanced breakfast as you would on any other day. If you’re not eating the big meal until dinner time, make sure to have lunch too. If you enter the Thanksgiving meal with a mild hunger, you can more easily eat slowly and stop before you’ve become uncomfortably full.
  • Give your meal your full attention. The Thanksgiving meal deserves to be an event that occupies all your senses. Turn off the football game before you sit down for dinner. Gather with family and friends to enjoy conversation as you eat. Note the wonderful aroma of the food before even taking your first bite. And most importantly, practice mindfulness with every chew: taste it, note the texture, and savor it.
  • You don’t have to clean your plate. Some of us grew up with parents that were strict about finishing everything on the plate. This can be a difficult behavior to override. It takes careful attention to your hunger and satiety cues as you eat, and giving yourself permission to stop when you feel satisfied (but not overly full). You are an adult now and you are in charge of your eating.
  • If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. If you’re not a fan of Aunt Margaret’s green bean casserole, don’t put it on your plate. If something does make it onto your plate that you find you don’t like, don’t eat it. Be discerning about what you choose to put in your mouth so it can be a truly enjoyable eating experience, and don’t waste your time (or tummy) on the things that don’t satisfy you.
  • Take what you want. On the other hand, give yourself full permission to take what you want. Don’t restrict yourself based on what you perceive to be “healthy” vs. “unhealthy.” If you opt for salad, but what you really want is mashed potatoes and gravy, you might find yourself chasing that craving by nibbling on a number of other foods, when you would have been satisfied with much less of the mashed potatoes.
  • You can have seconds if you want to. If we place rules upon ourselves that tell us we are limited in what or how much we can have, this creates feelings of restriction. This often leads to fast eating, because you feel like you are doing something “wrong,” and a fear of remaining hungry or not getting to eat what you want. Tell yourself you have permission to have more of the foods that satisfy you, if you are still feeling hungry when it is gone.
  • Skip the substitutions. Maybe you absolutely love mashed potatoes with whole milk, but you’re saving calories or being “healthy” by using skim. The problem here is you may not feel fully satisfied with the substitution, and perhaps you’ll end up eating more chasing that familiar taste you are not getting. Remember, Thanksgiving is one day. Make it like Grandma did.
  • Move your body. An awesome compliment to the Thanksgiving meal is to engage in some enjoyable movement that day. Go for a post-dinner walk or play some flag football with the family. Hit a yoga class in the morning. Make sure it is something that makes you feel good; don’t use the exercise as a penance to pay for eating.

Many of these tips are based on the principles of Intuitive Eating, developed by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD. Learn more about their approach at their website.

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