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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to handle Thanksgiving...

without feeling bloated, guilty, and unhappy:


Thanksgiving can be a bad time for anyone watching what they eat, and anyone with "food issues". I know - I used to have more than my fair share.

But with some planning, an open mind and some self-compassion, we can enjoy the holiday without overindulging and regrets.

First, remember that this is a holiday and if we choose to, it's ok to indulge a bit. That doesn't mean announcing "screw it" and gorging on leftovers all week, but it does mean if I really like mashed potatos and it's something I usually avoid, I can have a reasonable sized portion of mashed potatos!

In planning ahead, try to envision the foods you really enjoy versus the foods you tend to eat "just because they're there" or because beloved Aunt Millie would be devastated if you didn't. Choose to eat reasonable portions of the foods you will truly enjoy, and savor them. Just say no to the stuff you don't actually care if you have to wait until next year to eat again.

Families get together for Thanksgiving, and families tend to trot out all their craziness at holidays. If you're feeling nervous because of an old feud with your mom, or you're dreading the political fights between Uncle Fred and Grandpa or really don't want to listen to the constant backstabbing from your sister-in-law, acknowledge these fears and discomforts, if only to yourself. You might journal about them or confide in a friend outside the family who won't be personally involved in the situation (just make sure it's not someone who will spread it as gossip). Regardless, commit to yourself that you won't use food as a crutch to deal with these painful or annoying situations. Do your best to avoid the situations you know will crop up and try to spend the most time around the people whose company you *do* enjoy. When you find yourself wanting to chew just for a way to keep your mind off the problem, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this will not actually help. See if you can do some creative problem solving. You might even get brave enough to speak up and tell whomever that while they're family and you love them, you'd rather not listen to their opinions about the fact that you're 35 and unmarried. Or whatever.

Try not to arrive to the family get-together starving. Some people try to "save up" all their calories by eating nothing before dinner. Unfortunately, this will just muck up your metabolism and ensure than you binge on all the goodies. In the grand scheme of things one day of this behavior all year is not an enormous deal, but it's not terribly comfortable physically or mentally. Instead of starving / binging, try eating small portions of balanced foods before the big meal - get a little protein and some good carbs (examples are yogurt, whole wheat toast with peanut butter or an apple with some string cheese). That way, when you are faced with the feast, you can make wise and yummy choices instead of gong into vaccuum-cleaner mode.

Try to get some exercise early in the day if you can. This not only offsets the calories you're about to consume, but it will put you in a better state of mind; more able to stave off stress and remain positive. This, too, will help you make healthier choices at dinner. Don't try to overdo it and run 5 miles when you normally can't run one - be realistic. But do something that gets your heart pumping and your breathing faster.

There are the traditonal tips and tricks that do help: wear fitted clothes instead of sweats so you're more conscious of how much you're consuming and when you start to feel uncomfortably full. Stay physically as far away from the food as possible (unless you're actually sitting down to dinner) so you're not constantly tempted to keep refilling your plate. Drink plenty of water throughout the day - it's not only good for you, but it will help you not to consume quite as much.

If you have any control over the cooking of the meal, you can try some healthier versions of the traditional fare - mix some mashed cauliflour wih the potatos, use a little honey instead of covering the sweet potatos with marshmallow fluff, and choose smaller pies instead of giant ones with extra-huge pieces, pumpkin instead of the calorie-dense pecan.

When it comes to leftovers, if you're in charge of cooking, try not to produce many. That means careful planning, not trying to guilt your family into eating more than they really want. Maybe a 15-pound turkey would be sufficient instead of a 20-pounder. Maybe you only really need half the mashed potatos you usually make, because there's always a ton left. If you like having leftovers and are savvy enough to be wise with them and eat them slowly over the next week, go for it. But try not to produce so much that you and everyone else is faced with a frige full of tempting goodies in large quantities for the next week. If you're not the cook and are asked to take home leftovers, take only what you know you can happily use without feeling bad about it. Know that half a pie is going to be hard to resist? Take only a piece, or don't take it home at all.

Finally, recognize that you're a human being, deserve to indulge once in awhile, and forgive yourself for whatever imagined wrongs you may think you've committed over the holiday. Beating ourselves up only inevitably leads to more binging as we continue to comfort ourselves with extra food. Don't give in to the viscious cycle. Commit to doing what is good for you physically, mentally and emotionally - which means providing yourself with balance.

Good luck, everyone, and happy Thanksgiving!