For those of you in the USA, next Thursday is Thanksgiving. It’s a time to get together with family and eat until we pass out on the sofa in front of the football game and/ or Macy’s Parade. Usually, if you are trying to lose weight, you don’t know if you should dread all the food you know you’re going to eat (or at least want to) or if you’re going to use the holiday as an excuse to eat until your belt has to come off.
I am not going to make this easy for you: it’s your decision and there is no ‘wrong’ choice. Despite what others have to say, there is no Food Police and whatever you decide to eat or not eat, you won’t be given demerits or extra credit points. There’s no bonus for saying no to the pumpkin pie or the stuffing.
I will give you my own best advice, having faced a few of these holidays while trying to lose weight, and my best advice is this: eat what you know you won’t regret! I know it sounds like a cop out, but really this whole ‘healthy eating thing’ we’re trying to do isn’t something we just do ‘sometimes’ or when we feel like we’re having a good day. This really is a lifestyle, so it means eating without guilt (remember no Food Police!) It also means we eat the same way (or we should) whether others are watching or not. We’ve all done the sneak-eating, where we hope no one notices the box of Chips Ahoy is missing and that we ate all or most of them! What we eat is completely our business! Our bodies, our health, our food! Please understand that I am not telling you to take the deep dish apple pie off the buffet and eat the whole thing , although if you want to, you can. I am just wondering if you will regret it on Friday, because I know I would! I am telling you that having a piece of pie or cake or stuffing or whatever you choose is not a reason to beat yourself up, if you want it and will not regret it later! That’s pretty much the operative phrase here: if you won’t regret it. The caveat to this whole idea of regret is pretty much basic Cause and Effect. Everything you eat has an effect on your body, your health, weight and your goals. It’s that savvy shopper rule: you get what you pay for! If you don’t mind paying for the stuffing, yams with marshmallows, pumpkin pie and carrot cake with all the aftereffects of roller coaster blood sugar, cravings and hunger and maybe a weight stall or even a gain, then that’s your business. You are prepared to pay for what you ate, you enjoyed it and you aren’t sorry, so don’t let anyone try guilting you over your choices.
However, it you are trying to bargain your way out of the cost, such as things like “I won’t eat anything the day before/ after Thanksgiving,” you may be out of luck! It’s a lot harder to go without to make up for bingeing, and usually it doesn’t work. Unless you’ve been fasting for a while, it’s hard to make it through the initial couple of days especially if you don’t know what pitfalls to look out for and usually by the time the holiday arrives, you’re STARVING and end up eating way more than feels good. (FYI: if you do want to try legitimate fasting, read Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Complete Guide to Fasting or google the “Intensive Dietary Management Program”.) The trick isn’t to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other: the key is stay fairly consistent. As in, I might eat a couple of things not normally on my menu for the holiday, but I’m not going nuts over the carrot cake!
I think Mark Sisson made a great point in his interview on the Primal Potential podcast when he said most Americans think in terms of “how much can I eat without gaining weight?” This is pretty much how we view Thanksgiving: how much can I wolf down before it’s too much? I know there is no Food Police, but this is the same idea we have with a lot of things (like money!) that really gets us into trouble. I used to see the same idea on billboards for my gym all the time: “I work out because: [fill in the blank]” and it’s usually been ‘filled in’ with a phrase such as “I like four cheese pizza!” I understand that ideation really well. I used to eat most of a medium thick crust loaded pizza and bread stick and wings on a fairly regular basis. And, no, I didn’t work out then. And pretty much every time I looked at the two or three pieces of pizza left over in the fridge, I’d either feel guilty that I ate so much of it or I’d try congratulating myself on not eating ALL of it! That is not the best mindset to view what you eat! Unfortunately, this is how most of view the holidays: “well, at least I didn’t eat all the [insert holiday treat here]!”
I am going to give you some good advice if you are feeling nervous going into the holidays. Stay away from appetizers or snacks that are just fast carbs or sugar. At my relative’s house, there’s always a huge bowl of chips and dip, but there’s usually a veggie tray too. I stick with the veggies: they are more filling, fewer calories (if minimal dip) and more nutritious. I also stick with the veggies and the meats at the meal: not a lot of yams, or potatoes, and more of the salad or roasted veggies and the turkey. I do a spoonful of stuffing and maybe a spoonful of macaroni salad. I also say no to the bread, because usually they’re store-bought heat and serve rolls (not worth it to me). As for dessert, if there is something I want to try, I do a small slice or serving. The key is to enjoy the food, not feel like it’s put me in a coma! It is also 100% okay to say no to anything on the table or anything you are offered!
If we want to be successful over the coming holidays, we need to eat without guilt or shame or excuses. If we want to eat the pie, then eat the pie- as long as you know what you are prepared to pay for it! If it’s more important to you to lose a couple more pounds before Christmas or New Year’s, then don’t eat the pie. You know you will regret it when you put on that special outfit for the holiday and it’s too tight or doesn’t look as good as you want it to. If you feel okay paying that price, then don’t feel guilty about what you ate or didn’t eat. It’s also okay not to eat everything on your plate! Sometimes, especially at holidays, we serve ourselves too much or someone else is too generous with the food. It’s okay to say it’s too much, or take some home or to leave it behind (here, kitty, kitty!) There’s no law that says we need to binge or we need to deny ourselves. Remember- no Food Police! No guilt, no excuses, no shame! Eat what you feel good about eating, either because you want to celebrate the holiday or you are okay paying the price for it! Your body, your health- your rules!