Tips for eating Thanksgiving Dinner, not your feelings

For this month’s newsletter, I am borrowing from my last year’s newsletter, “Thanksgiving, i.e. National Overeater’s Day”. It seems appropriate to talk once again about this day of thanks and the day that overeating is the accepted principle.

Before I started to deal with my own food issues, I treated Thanksgiving Day as an excuse to go ahead full force with my love of food and overeating. After all, it seemed expected… everyone commented about loosening their pants to give their tummy more room. As well, time with my family sent me back to feeling 10 years old again; and 10 was not a happy time for me.

What I always found is that I still felt uncomfortably full, bad about myself, wishing I hadn’t taken that last bite, and invisible around my family. Thanksgiving really was no different than any other day, I discovered.

Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for some of us overeat to manage the stress of being around our families.

Perhaps you love your family, but they drive you crazy. Perhaps your family is too dysfunctional to like much, but you spend time with them anyway. Perhaps you avoid them altogether. Whichever fits for you, family can push all the right buttons and create that desire to eat to push down how you feel. So, how do you cope with this and actually enjoy your turkey without needing to loosen your pants and feel shame about eating?

Tips to eating turkey, not your feelings:

• Depending on what time turkey dinner is served, eat a light breakfast – enough that you will be hungry for dinner but not too hungry. Keep in mind that if you are hungry for dinner, it will taste better. If, however, you are too hungry when you eat, you will tend to overeat and eat too fast to enjoy the food.

• If your family is like many, there will be lots of food lying around before dinner starts. Do not snack on these before dinner; again, you want to feel hungry (at about a 3 on a 10 point scale) before dinner. However, if it looks good to you, consider saving some to eat during dinner. Wrap it up in a napkin, if you want. Often times, just knowing you can have the treat later, will diminish the need for it NOW.

• Only put on your plate the foods you love. Challenge yourself to pass up the salad that your Aunt Suzy made just because you don’t want her to feel bad. This scenario is often an underlying issue for compulsive eaters and will only hurt you in the end.

• Half way through your meal, stop eating and check in with your body. Notice where you are on the hunger scale (see my article “Put Your Hunger on the Scale” on my website). When you start to feel full, slow down or stop eating. Make sure you can take home leftovers. For example, ask your host for leftovers – “Mom, this turkey and gravy is DELICIOUS! I really want to eat more now but I am too full. Would you mind if I take some home to enjoy tomorrow?” Again, making this happen and reminding yourself of it can help ease your desire to continue eating the yummy food.

• If you begin to feel overwhelmed with family, consider taking a walk, talking to someone you like, or even hiding out in the bathroom for a bit. It’s often hard to let yourself feel the pain or sadness of a difficult interaction with family members. However if you do nothing but just be aware of your feelings, you’ll ultimately feel better than if you lose control and have to cope with the added physical discomfort and emotional guilt of eating to cope with those family feelings.

• Save room for pie! If your family is like mine, pie seems to come way too soon after dinner. Remember that you can always say, “I’m not hungry yet, I’ll wait to eat my slice later” and be sure your favorite is saved for you. Trust me, you will enjoy your pie more if you are hungry when you eat it.

• Spend some time giving thanks and appreciation to yourself, your growth, people in your life, pets that you love. Create a new family ritual or just do this yourself or with friends.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, yourself, and the people you spend it with! Thank you for being a part of a community that supports a healthy relationship with food and your body.


2. What is happening right now?

3. What emotions are you experiencing? (Try not to label them as good or bad or wonder ‘why’ you are experiencing this emotion. Just notice it)

4. What are you hoping will happen if you engage in the eating behavior?

Below are some questions to ask yourself after you engage in an eating behavior. Go into your body or write down what comes to mind when you ask these questions. This will help you learn more about what is driving your behavior.

1. What type of eating behavior(s) did you engage in?

2. What was happening just before you engaged in the eating behavior?

3. What emotions were you experiencing immediately prior to the eating behavior and immediately after?

4. What did it feel like, physically and emotionally, to engage in this type of behavior?

5. What were you hoping would happen by engaging in your eating behavior(s)?

Learning about what you are trying to avoid, what you are trying to communicate, or trying to deal with by using food, is often the first step toward changes in your eating behaviors. When you face your emotions, you no longer need food to help you cope.

Of course, learning to face your emotions may be a challenge. We often aren’t taught to do this by our parents or even in our society (I call this the “eat this cookie and you’ll feel better” syndrome.) Therefore, sometimes you may need a little extra help in discovering and expressing your emotions in a healthy way. You can do this with a friend, family or partner who is willing to support you in this way. Or, you can do this with a therapist who is trained to help you access your feelings.

In short, just changing your behaviors around food a little and/or exploring what is driving these behaviors with the questions above can help bring up the feelings. If you notice yourself pushing them back down, some extra help might be needed. However, if you let the feelings come up: sit with them, share them with another, notice how that feels and appreciate yourself for doing it.


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