Holidays, especially Thanksgiving, and overeating used to go hand-in-hand for me. You would think my sister and I were competing to see who could eat more, only to feel sluggish and uncomfortable for the rest of the night.
Thankfully, things are different now, and I think the biggest influence was changing my mindset. Some tips and tricks I have learned along the way have certainly helped too, which I've shared below.
However, let's be clear about one important point before moving on: know that it is OK to overeat occasionally, and it will not drastically affect your health (or weight!). If you change one thing about your eating habits, try to dissociate food with feelings of guilt. Everyone overeats once in a while — even dietitians. Just get back to your normal routine the next day. If it is a regular occurrence, you may want to consider seeing a dietitian who can help support you make sustainable changes.
That being said, here are my top seven tips for navigating a big Thanksgiving dinner:
1. Don't go in starving.
I hear others recommend this frequently, yet it still happens. You "save" your appetite all day for that big Thanksgiving meal, and then end up eating more food than your normal lunch and dinner combined. This behaviour tends to result in those negative, guilty feelings. It is OK to have a smaller lunch, but don't go into dinner so ravenous that you can't control how much you eat.
Try this: If you feel hungry, and it is still an hour or two before dinner, have a small snack with some protein to tide you over. Besides, a whole bunch of "hangry" family members in one room never ends well!
2. Know that all the delicious food will be there tomorrow... and the next day, and the next.
Thanksgiving dinner leftovers might just be better than the dinner itself. You don't have to eat it all in one day. I love trying all the foods and dishes, but sometimes the options (especially at Thanksgiving potlucks) are so vast that I just can't manage it all without feeling ill.
Try this: If you are not at home, ask if you can take some leftovers and box up a few samples of dishes that you didn’t get to try. Or, at the very least, ask for the recipes and you can try making the dishes yourself.
3. Avoid mindless nibbling while you are cooking or watching others cook.
All that "taste testing" in the kitchen adds up fast and can ruin your appetite for dinner. If making dinner is a drawn-out process, as Thanksgiving dinner tends to be, you likely won't even realize that you may have eaten your entire dinner's worth of calories by the time it is ready.
Try this: Make a rule for yourself to eat only when you are sitting down (or actually testing the seasoning of a dish).
4. If your family serves dinner "family style" — stop.
With all that food sitting right there on the table in front of you, it is hard not to grab seconds, even if you are already feeling satisfied. So switch things up.
Try this: Keep all the dishes in the kitchen and make everyone get up if they want more. You would be surprised how discouraging this can be if you are not truly hungry!
5. Watch your liquid calories.
Liquids, like pop, juice and alcoholic beverages, go down fast and don't keep you full for as long as whole foods.
Try this: Keep water nearby and drink it between each sip of your alcoholic or sweetened beverage. You can also try diluting your beverage with sparkling water to make it last longer, or make plain water more flavourful by letting a pitcher of water mixed with cucumbers and strawberries sit overnight. Kick your flavoured water up another notch by adding colorful straws and garnishes.
6. Make conversation.
Talk, talk and talk some more! Talking while you are eating naturally slows you down. It takes about 20 minutes or so for your brain to register that you are full. So slow down. It is not a race.
Try this: Have some conversation starters ready if you think you won't have enough to say. Enjoy this valuable time with your family! Food is incredibly social and is so much better enjoyed in the company of those you love. Make it last!
7. Don't eat something you don't like.
If your favourite auntie serves you her prized dish and you don't like it — don't eat it. She will still love you! Everyone enjoys different foods and feeling pressured to eat something you don't like isn't fair.
Try this: Leave food on your plate. The days of "finish your dinner or you don't get dessert" are hopefully over. Eat foods that you truly enjoy and you will feel much more satisfied with less!
Being more mindful when you are eating sounds simple, but it is not easy. It takes a lot of practice and commitment to be in tune with your hunger and satiety signals. Thanksgiving weekend is a true test of this, and if you still overeat, it is OK! Enjoy nourishing foods often, and don't overly restrict yourself. If you love pumpkin pie, go for it, knowing that it is not an everyday food, and try not to take all of the leftover pie home with you.
Above all else, relax and be thankful for this wonderful opportunity to enjoy nourishing foods with your loved ones!