Surviving Thanksgiving

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I have always affectionately named Thanksgiving as National Overeater’s Day. I consider this affectionate because it seems to be a day that overeating is accepted and even expected. Finally, overeaters get a day all for themselves, without the judgments of being “out of control” or “bad” for eating too much. Overeating is not bad. Everyone overeats sometimes. The problem lies in doing so as a way to manage your emotions, rather than to feed your body.

One reason we overeat on Thanksgiving is that the food is so yummy and it’s something we have just once a year. Perhaps if Thanksgiving dinner came 3 times a week, we wouldn’t feel the desire to gorge on turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and all the favorites as we do on that one day of the year. I know this is true for me.

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I also think 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 you do, family can push all the right (or wrong) buttons and bring up that desire to eat to push down the feelings. So, how do you cope with this and actually enjoy your turkey without needing to unbutton your pants and feel shame about eating?

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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.
  • If Thanksgiving is an excuse to binge, try to really allow it. This may be coming from the “Last Supper” feeling. After all, eating a turkey that cooked all day long is rare. If you ate it every night, you probably wouldn’t want to binge on it. Also, remember that the binge part of you is often the healthy part. I know that the purge part of you will probably want to get rid of the binge in some way afterward. But, try to allow the binge part to enjoy the food. Try having a mini dialogue with the binge part of you (writing this down can be helpful, see below). For example, perhaps the binge part is saying, “I can’t wait to eat all that food. I love turkey and this is the only time I get it.” Really allow it to share what it wants, like a child might… with enthusiasm and joy. Then respond, trying to keep the criticism of the purge voice out of it. “Yes, turkey is really tasty and because it only comes around once a year, that makes it even yummier. Enjoy it fully. It is okay to want turkey and all the trimmings.” Now, listen for the purge/critical part. Really try to listen to it without judgment. Validate it but notice that you don’t need to give into it. Now, return to the binge voice and try on giving it permission to eat, to enjoy. If you can do this, it may actually support you in feeling full and stopping, rather than eating too much and needing to purge.
  • 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.


Sample Dialogue with Binge Voice / Purge Voice

Binge Voice Nurturing Voice Purge Voice
I love turkey and I can’t wait to get my hands on it It is okay to want turkey You hardly ever get to eat it and it tastes good. . I have to get rid of this food. I hate feeling full.
Being around family is so hard sometimes, that I just want to eat to cope with all the stress. Yes, your family is difficult at times. You love them, but they push buttons. I feel so uncomfortable in my body. I hate feeling this way.
I have no control. It is okay to have feelings, even the negative ones. If I focus on getting rid of this food, at least that is something I can control

Try doing this exercise with your different voices. Write down whatever comes to you, without editing. Notice what happens and share it with someone, if you want.

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