Thanksgiving is right around the corner and many of my clients have a similar concern: How to handle all the food usually present at large family holiday events. Hopefully these tips will help get you through with little stress and much enjoyment.
Tip # 1 Eat all of your typical meals and snacks the day of the event.
People often make the mistake of skipping meals so that if they end up overeating they won’t feel as guilty. This is a big mistake. Showing up starving to a huge meal containing many of your favorite foods is a set up for overeating or binge eating. “But then I won’t have room in my stomach for everything that I want to eat” you might argue. The reality is that our stomachs have a limited capacity (approximately 1.5 liters of food) and empty approximately every 1-3 hours (depending on the person and food eaten). Eating lunch at 12 will still leave you with a relatively empty stomach for a 4pm dinner, and certainly no less room than you would have had if you had not eaten all day. Plus, walking into the room feeling deprived from fasting all day makes you more vulnerable to feeling out of control once dinner is served.
Tip #2 Create structure
One of the problems people run into at big holiday meals is that the food is plentiful, available and left out for long periods of time. Most of us eat our meals and snacks in discreet episodes- we take the food out, eat, and then clean up the remainders. So, for all day holiday meals one must create structure where structure may not already exist.
• Designate a time in your mind to eat your meal so that it has a discreet beginning, middle and end
• Avoid walking around and eating directly from serving platters. Fill a plate for yourself and use utensils. Try to sit at a table designated for eating. If you want seconds, fill your plate again.
• When you’re done, clean up your plate and leave the table and dining room. You are making room for someone else to sit and enjoy their meal and doing yourself a favor by not lingering where the food is. There may still be finger food in other rooms. If you decide you want some of this, find a cup or a plate and repeat the process.
Tip # 3 Eat mindfully
Eat when you’re hungry. Food tastes better when you’re hungry.
Stop when you’re full. Guilt aside, the physical sensations of being overly full, such as abdominal pain, bloating or heartburn, are unpleasant and unhealthy. Don’t have room for you favorite desert or enjoyed the turkey so much but you’re too full? Most hosts expect to send home doggy bags. Save the food for when you’re hungry again. Alternatively, make your own Thanksgiving dinner, any day of the year.
Eat what you want. Really taste what you’re eating. Don’t like green bean casserole? Don’t eat it. Love squash? Make sure you get some.
Tip # 4 Go easy on the alcohol.
Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and makes us vulnerable to eating errors like overeating. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Tip # 5 Remember why you’re there
While food can be a major component of many holiday celebrations, most of the time it’s not the main reason. Thanksgiving is a day of counting our blessings and being thankful for what we have. It is also a day when family and friends joins together, often after not having seen one another for a while. Once you have eaten your thanksgiving meal, if you feel tempted to eat more, remember why you are there. Take a look around the room and find a friend or family member that you haven’t seen for a while and go talk to them.
– Stacey Nye is a clinical psychologist specializing in the individual and group treatment of eating disorders, body image and women’s issues.