How To Eat Mindfully On Thanksgiving

Oct 9, 2022

The whole point of Thanksgiving is being grateful, specifically, grateful for food. Yet most articles about Thanksgiving focus on how to deprive yourself – how to cut calories in your favorite holiday foods, how not to “overeat,” what exercises to do to “burn off” the stuffing. Yet again, we’re given messages to restrict ourselves in an environment where food is supposed to be plentiful – just another example of diet culture’s mixed messaging.

Those mixed messages can make Thanksgiving a really stressful time for eating, especially if you struggle with dieting and/or disordered eating. Family members push second helpings on you, then go on a guilt trip over how many calories are in the gravy. Throw some tricky family dynamics into the mix and you’ve got all the ingredients for an incredibly stressful eating experience.

If you’re feeling anxious this Thanksgiving, here are some tips for how to eat mindfully and stress-free!

Eat breakfast.

I don’t care how much you plan to eat on Thanksgiving, your body still needs breakfast, and you will enjoy your meal SO much more if you aren’t ravenously hungry. Making your stomach go from no food to lots of food feels really uncomfortable, and if you’re ravenously hungry sitting down at the table, you’re much more likely to “overeat” (I use quotations because that word implies there is a right about to eat). If you have an early Thanksgiving meal, it might make sense to have something light, like a smoothie or toast with peanut butter and/or yogurt & fruit.

Eat what you like. Pass on what you don’t.

Guys, you have permission to not eat foods you don’t like. Me, I don’t like peas pudding (I know, I know!), so I don’t eat it. I also like the sides way more than I like turkey, so I usually just get a very small obligatory slice of turkey. Sometimes family will push foods on you. If someone is upset with you for not eating a dish they made, that’s on them. You’re allowed to have food preferences, and that doesn’t say anything about someone’s cooking skills…or maybe it does. Still, you can politely decline without saying “your sweet potatoes suck Aunt Susan.” Similarly, if you taste something and decide you don’t like it, you don’t have to finish it. And if you want seconds of something else, you don’t have to clear your plate.

Take mindful pauses.

Mindful eating is a useful skill, but realistically you’re not going to pay total and complete attention to your meal when you’ve got a room full of family or friends to chat with. Practice taking mindful pauses throughout the meal. Notice any thoughts or judgements about the food you’re eating. Check in with the hunger/fullness scale to see how you feel. Tune into your senses and notice what the food tastes like – is it pleasurable, or not? Then get back to gossiping about your family members that aren’t there.

Be prepared to change the topic from diet talk.

Be prepared with a list of topics or questions to divert from diet talk. Or, if you feel comfortable, prepare a quick statement, like “hey, I’d appreciate it if we didn’t talk about dieting on Thanksgiving. It’s a day about being thankful for food, and talking about dieting makes it hard to enjoy this meal that we worked so hard to prepare without feeling guilty.” Here’s a great article with more advice on how to respond to diet talk on Thanksgiving.

Remember that “overeating” on Thanksgiving is totally normal – and even pleasurable!

Thanksgiving day full doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Absent fatphobia, is there anything bad about leaving the table feeling like you want to put on stretchy pants and take a nap? Would you really feel satisfied if you left the meal physically feeling the same as you do at any other meal while there will likely be leftovers, and of course you always have permission to eat your Thanksgiving favorites throughout the year, chances are you’re not going to want to put all that effort into cooking an entire Thanksgiving spread when it’s not Thanksgiving – so enjoy it!

Remember that holiday weight gain is drastically over-exaggerated by the diet industry to get you to buy their programs in January.

If you do gain weight over the holidays, it’s OK! Bodies naturally fluctuate within a set point range, and a time of year with typically less physical activity due to colder weather, more stress, and more holiday parties and other food focused celebrations, it makes sense that your body might move towards the higher end of yours. The average amount of weight gain over the holidays is actually quite small – but I won’t put the number here because I don’t want it to be triggering, or make anyone feel bad if they gain more than average. Even if you do legitimately gain weight, perhaps your body needed to – even if you already have a larger body. Perhaps giving yourself more permission as we approach this years’ holiday season is part of your healing process. Remember, your worth and value is not defined by your size.

At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is about food. It’s also about family and traditions and getting annoyed with your family members…lol. But mostly, it’s about food. And that’s okay.

Now, I’d love to hear your favorite Thanksgiving traditions and foods!

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