Thanksgiving used to be the one of the worst days of the year for me in terms of my relationship with food. Usually, I’d spend the whole day eating very little, if anything at all, and running a few extra miles. I needed to proactively create a calorie deficit, I thought, because I wanted to be able to eat my all-time-favorite sausage stuffing and maybe a piece of pie without going over the calorie limit I’d set for myself. Yet, deep down, I always knew that I’d not only exceed that calorie goal, but end up bingeing.
My intuition was always right.
Usually, Thanksgiving binges were worse than regular binges. The anticipation of the event was always greater than other celebrations because, let’s be honest, the first thing we tend to associate with Thanksgiving is food—and lots of it. Add to that the fact that I was terrified of a repeat from the year before (aka another binge), and very aware of the fact that since I was not preparing the majority of the food on the table, I really had no clue how many calories were in it. All those things made Thanksgiving, for me, the perfect storm for disordered eating disaster. And it always, felt like that.
The soul-crushing shame that comes from binge eating—whether on Thanksgiving or otherwise—takes over a person’s experience of life. Even worse, it’s not the type of thing where we can wake up the next morning having forgotten about it. Usually, we feel even worse the next morning, groggy and bloated with a stomach ache. All these serve as painful reminders of our failures the night before.
I remember my first Thanksgiving as an intuitive eater. I was full after the meal, but not overly full. I had no clue how many calories I’d consumed, and honestly didn’t care. I ended up taking a nap on the couch while everyone else watched football and ate dessert. When I woke up and realized I’d missed out on the pie, I was surprised to realize that I didn’t actually want pie, anyway. That’s right—I passed on dessert on Thanksgiving. And it felt amazing.
It wasn’t the fact that I’d avoided the extra calories because again, that wasn’t a concern for me. It wasn’t even the fact that I avoided feeling overly full, though I was grateful for that. What made that first Thanksgiving so monumental for me was the I realized that food no longer had power over me. I wasn’t ruled by the compulsion to eat, the allure of rich food, and the atmosphere of feasting. Instead, I was in tune with my body and effortlessly ate according to the signals it was giving me. It felt like freedom, and it was incredible.
The reason I was able to turn down the pie without forcing myself (and without feeling left out) was because I’d spent the previous 5 months working on my relationship with food and becoming an intuitive eater. The transition from a Thanksgiving binge to a Thanksgiving…not binge?…didn’t happen overnight. It took hard work, including trial-and-error, and a lot of courage in the months leading up to it. But it was so worth it.
If you’re struggling in your relationship with food, and looking towards Thanksgiving with apprehension rather than joy and gratitude, I get it. I’ve been there. And if you’re reading this on the day it’s posted, that means you don’t have 5 months to completely overhaul your relationship with food before the holidays roll around. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. In fact, here are 5 things you can start doing today to help make the upcoming holidays not only something to not fear, but to actuall enjoy.
5 Ways to Avoid Binge Eating on Thanksgiving
1. Don’t skip meals.
Skipping meals destabilizes our blood sugar, and unstable blood sugar leads to out-of-control cravings. Out-of-control cravings almost always lead to binge eating.
As I described in this post, avoiding food when our bodies are telling us they need to eat only creates more problems for us. But when we honor our cravings, our bodies learn that they can trust us, and we likewise learn that we can trust them and the signals they give us. The reason we often end up binge eating after a period of restriction involves numerous different factors (biological, psychological, emotional, spiritual) but it all comes back to the fact that our bodies know what they need, and they’ll do everything they can to get it.
I know it can be tempting to skip meals in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and it definitely doesn’t help when other people in our lives do that. But the #1 thing you can do to avoid a Thanksgiving binge is to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks through the day to keep blood sugar balanced and provide your body with the nutrients that it needs.
2. Cut back on exercise.
Exercising too much—whether in terms of frequency or duration—creates an amplified stress response in our bodies. This often manifests as a loss of appetite when we’re not eating, only to transform into extreme hunger when we do start eating. Anyone who has ever reached the point of no return (aka getting way, way, way too hungry) knows that it’s really difficult to eat a reasonable portion at a reasonable pace once the fork touches our lips. Avoid falling into this pattern, especially on Thanksgiving day, by cutting back on intense exercise in the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Focus instead on gentle, restorative movement like cycling, walking, yoga, and stretching. [It also may be beneficial to you to completely cut out exercise for a time so that your body and mind can heal.]
3. Eat Thanksgiving foods before Thanksgiving.
The more we eat a certain food, the less likely we are to crave it. The less intense our cravings, the less likely we are to binge.
Thanksgiving (and other holidays) typically come with a pre-set menu…Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, casserole, pie, etc. One of the ways that I avoid the temptation to overdo it at Thanksgiving dinner is by making Thanksgiving food feel less ‘special.’ While there’s definitely something to be said for keeping our celebrations sacred, food doesn’t need to be part of that equation. Plus, I find that I end up feeling the need to eat less pie on Thanksgiving day if I’ve been eating it all week. So, that’s exactly what I do.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I prepare my favorite menu items as part of regular, weeknight dinners. A few weeks ago I made apple pie, and this week I made pumpkin pie. [Recipe below]
4. Save some for later.
Just like eating pie and stuffing in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving helps me avoid overeating on the day of the holiday itself, the knowledge that I don’t need to wait 365 days to enjoy those foods again allows me to put my fork down when I’m satisfied rather than engaging in ‘last supper’ eating. If we know we can eat it again, we don’t need to eat it all now.
This can be accomplished in a few ways: if you’re the cook, make extra food so you have leftovers. If you’re not, ask for the recipe for your favorite dishes and plan to make them again the next day, when all the Thanksgiving ingredients are on sale at the grocery store.
5. Give thanks.
Our diet-obsessed culture paints the picture that food is a bad thing that we should avoid eating as much as possible. This is so backwards! Rather, food is a wonderful and satisfying gift from God, and it brings him glory when we keep it in its proper place in our lives. Use the holiday season as a reminder to practice your expression of gratitude for all of God’s blessings in your life, including food. Say grace before meals, and when you do, really mean it. Think about one thing you’re grateful for about every item on your plate.
If you’re ready to heal your relationship with food for real—and not just for Thanksgiving, check out my book, Foundations: a kickstart guide for getting started with intuitive eating. It’ll walk you through the step-by-step process that I use in session with clients to cultivate a healthy foundation for an intuitive, diet-free life.
Some notes on this pumpkin pie recipe:
This pumpkin pie is gluten free for those who are interested, and it also has a fairly decent amount of protein. That’s significant because the protein (from eggs and greek yogurt) help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream which keeps blood sugar stable and prevents sugar crashes. This is a major ‘win’ in my book because sometimes I want to eat pie for a snack, but I don’t always feel great when I do so. This pie is the exception!
Crustless Pumpkin Pie
- 1 can pumpkin puree
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup plain or vanilla greek yogurt
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch (or other starch, such as tapioca)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie plate (or 8×8 inch baking dish) with butter or cooking spray. Set aside.
Whisk all ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl until thoroughly mixed. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for 60-80 minutes in the pre-heated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool completely before serving (with homemade whipped cream for best flavor!)