Now that I’m divorced, I no longer attend the huge Thanksgiving gathering that my ex-husband’s family hosted.
My family, owing to my dad’s job as a football radio announcer – which requires that he work on Thanksgiving – has no tradition. And since my side of the family doesn’t do anything, my kids go with their dad that day. This means I have Thanksgiving Day to myself.
But please don’t feel badly for me.
It’s a massive relief that I get to avoid the whole scenario – you know, the one where you have to talk to a hundred people you don’t know (or don’t really like) and you eat and drink everything in sight.
My former approach to Thanksgiving was that it was a free-for-all day to cast all my healthy intentions into the wind – a reward for the 364 other days of the year where I was “good” and “worked hard” and “deserved” to binge. (The only thing that used to save me was the annual turkey trot race the morning of.)
However, in the years leading up to my divorce, I had begun to re-evaluate my approach to health (and also re-evaluate my marriage). I had learned the hard way that this all-or-nothing mindset did me no favors.
I finally figured out the right way to approach the day and came up with some of my own practical strategies to ensure that Thanksgiving didn’t go off the rails.
Here they are, since I know you’re not me and that you’re probably going to attend (or have to attend) your own family gathering:
1. Remember the big picture.
Don’t just look at Thanksgiving as your one special opportunity to blow it out. Try to see it as being another day in your life – a day that’s another chance to reach optimal health.
It’s a special day, of course – there aren’t many other days of the year where your family gets together, each person bringing his or her signature dish (loaded with fat and sugar, naturally) – and you’re allowed to indulge.
Just don’t let the fact that it comes once a year be your excuse to let the wheels come off the bus. Saying “It’s Thanksgiving, I can eat whatever I want” means you’ll find yourself in full-on binge mode for the next five weeks – which makes it that much harder to get back on track in January.
2. It’s about what you do – not just what you don’t do.
It’s so much easier to add healthy behaviors to your routine than it is to try not to engage in unhealthy ones.
Trying not to eat potato casserole or pumpkin pie means you’ll probably binge on it. But taking healthy steps before the food is served puts you in the right frame of mind, making it easier not to go overboard.
Try some of these:
- Go for a run or have a good long walk before you get there.
- Dress up. This helps you treat eating as an event, not a free-for-all. You’ll be more deliberate and mindful while you eat if you don’t roll up to the buffet in your sweatpants.
- Bring your own healthy dish. That way “There wasn’t anything healthy to eat” isn’t an excuse.
- Load your first plate up with healthy food (from your own dish) and eat that before going back for seconds.
- If making small talk is excruciating for you (it is for me), have a half a glass of wine to relax you before you get to the gathering, then drink water while you make the rounds. Drinking while you mingle – especially if you’re uncomfortable – is a recipe for catching a major buzz . . . then having a major binge.
3. Don’t try to be “good.”
This mentality sets the food up as the enemy, which ends up making it more desirable. You try and resist it, you want it more, you run out of willpower, and you binge.
You can eat some less-than-healthy foods on Thanksgiving – it’s ok. If you take these steps I’ve mapped out, you won’t be in danger of overdoing it. Establish your “allowing” mindset before you get to the gathering. Food isn’t scary, and you can eat as little or as much as you want to. You’re in complete control.
4. Stick to the Tried and True.
These tactics are familiar to all of us – but since we’ve heard them all before, we tend to forget about them or discount them altogether. However, sometimes the simplest tips are the most effective ones:
- Drink a glass of water before you eat
- Serve yourself small portions – don’t load up your plate
- Sit down before eating – don’t eat while standing up
- Put your fork down between bites – eat slowly
- Wait 10 or 15 minutes before going back for seconds – you might change your mind (or feel too full to have more)
Most importantly, if you do over-indulge remember: Tomorrow is another day and therefore another chance to get back on track.
And remember that you’re taking healthy actions not just to prevent weight gain but because you want to live a vibrant life. It’s about longevity, not weight loss.
It may be impossible to escape that one relative everyone’s trying to avoid, but you can at least avoid leaving this year’s gathering feeling bloated, exhausted, and disappointed in yourself.
I hope you have a Happy (healthy) Thanksgiving!
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