Have a Conscious Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which lends well to focusing on gratitude and food. Also, it rhymes (gratitude, food…). I made the decision several years ago that I was tired of feeling stuffed after holiday meals. I was tired of the never ending food funnel, which began with snacks, moved into appetizers, was followed by a meal with seconds, then topped off with dessert. Only to rinse and repeat a few hours later with leftovers. So I made a choice for myself to view this as a day/meal that needn’t be different than any other. The power of choice is well, powerful.

Instead of focusing on what we are “told” (primarily through media and long-held unquestioned habit) we “should” focus on…more food, more alcohol, more Christmas shopping, more down time in front of the TV…why not buck the mindless social construction of the Thanksgiving holiday? What if we threw convention out the window and allowed ourselves to feel full on what we already have? Rather than looking for external things to fill voids, what if we focused on the fullness that already exists? Instead of reaching for another piece of pie or convincing ourselves that buying more gifts on Black Friday will somehow make us feel better, why not fill up on what is already present?

I’m not one for the same tired tips and tricks that everyone has heard. I don’t happen to believe that these are really what will help you achieve long term health changes. Personally, I find the word “tips” itself rather irritating, akin to rubbing a cat’s hair in the opposite direction it grows.  Maybe that’s just me, however I do think people like “tips” because it makes them feel like they are taking action. “Tips” connotes simplicity, whereas, health behaviors are anything but. They are tightly bound to complex thoughts, emotions, and habits. Simplifying health behaviors does not serve us, and often sets us up to feel discouraged when we don’t follow through with seemingly easy approaches. 

Sure, objective strategies are great to add into the mix - avoid overindulging on appetizers before the meal, limit alcohol intake, load up your plate with vegetables and take smaller portions of creamy and starchy sides, skip seconds, limit yourself to one appropriate serving of dessert - but if they were the sole ticket to achieving your health goals, why haven’t they worked?  You have likely heard them dozens of times, but “knowing” isn’t enough. Maybe you’ve even employed a couple of them from time to time (they are helpful ALL days of the week, not just holidays).  Focusing on the various micro-ways we can achieve weight-loss, lower blood pressure, or reduce cholesterol mostly feels like a long list of to-dos (or to-don’ts) that need to be remembered when you’re in a moment in which rational thinking is oftentimes difficult. You’re hungry, there’s a large quantity and variety of food available, family dynamics are in full effect.

In order to find sustainable change, we need to look at the bigger picture. Take a wide-angle view of why these tips are difficult to consistently stick with. It’s not a lack of education. You don’t “un-know” these when you’re in the moment. It’s more likely that old feelings and thoughts override any sound knowledge, which then drives your behavior in the same way that it always has. You are eating in response to thoughts, therefore a change in your thoughts is necessary to change your actions.

Thanksgiving will likely not be your last meal, thus there is no physical need to overindulge. If you find yourself entertaining the generic thoughts that most Americans have – “I eat more because it’s Thanksgiving” or “I drink more because I deserve to take a break, have a holiday, etc.,” ask yourself:

“What am I truly gaining by doing this?”

Are you so focused on the hedonistic, feel-good-in-the-moment drive that you lose sight of your larger goals? This is worth shining a light on in order to gain insight into possible contributors to overeating. I’m not suggesting that asking yourself this will guarantee a change in behavior. However, it is highly unlikely that a behavior change will happen if you do not ask yourself this. I am encouraging you to make a CONSCIOUS choice, not necessarily a different one.

Let’s take an example. If when you ask yourself why you feel the need to overindulge, your answer is “I deserve a break from [insert whatever feels so incredibly stressful that you need a break – a strict diet plan/work/certain people/life],” the next question is “What, specifically, is so stressful or bad that you feel the need to get away from it?” and then “Is overeating really a way to appropriately address this stress?”

Let us assume, for a moment, that it is a strict diet plan from which you feel you need a reprieve. The actual problem in this situation is the strict diet plan, not how to best take a break from it. Any diet plan that leaves you feeling like you need a break is not a sustainable way to approach eating.

In keeping with the theme of gratitude and abundance, what if you focused on the lovely instead? Think about the sincerely positive things that are present in your life right now. Rather than saying “I’m so happy to have my wonderful family here! I’ll celebrate by eating 14 rolls,” try saying “I’m so happy to have my family here! My life is full now.” Change this phrase to best fit your context. The main point is to avoid following up a positive statement with one that does not align with your overall health goals.

Changing ingrained patterns is not an overnight occurrence, but how far can you get if you never start?


Much love y’all,