We have hit November and are now in ‘Holiday Season.’ For some, Holiday parties are upon us. For others, there is stress, grief, and loss that comes with these cold months. Both scenarios can affect our eating. I will address the topic of stress in another blog post. For this post, I wanted to address the ‘Thanksgiving feeding analogy’ now, since many people have family or friend celebrations all month long.
Consider the common scenario on Thanksgiving Day (or a day where there is a holiday gathering): A person knows that there will be more calorie dense foods available at the gathering, so they choose to not eat all morning long to save their calories for their larger food intake later in the day. Some just see this as intermittent fasting and there is nothing wrong with it. However, I would ask that person to consider their body’s physiological needs and cues. Being self-aware and sensitive to our body’s hunger and fullness cues, are skills that many have lost through years of diet cycling. I have so many patients who don’t recognize hunger until they are overly hungry, and then push past fullness because of not sensing fullness cues until it’s too late and they are left uncomfortable. Being hungry is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the body’s way of communicating that it needs sustenance and energy. It is self-honoring to feed the body at regular intervals to help stabilize blood sugar and hormones. Chronic dieting teaches people to deny their biological hunger, which often can backlash. Hunger will then increase and set off a biological cascade both physically and mentally which can result in overeating to ‘catch up’ from being too hungry.
Additionally, avoiding food all morning long in preparation for THE BIG MEAL can almost be seen as an assault on the body. It fuels disordered eating beliefs. It’s a form of punishment. And it keeps the blood sugar low so that when it is time to eat, one may take in high sugar foods in the body’s desperate desire to raise blood sugar. Then consider all the work that you are asking your digestive system to do at one time. If you end up over consuming food at one meal, that is a lot of work for your body to do at one time. Hello overload.
Honoring hunger is a key step in healing our relationship with food. Chronic dieting has led people to feel confused about food, their body, and the relationship between the two. Food is not a bad thing. Hunger is not a bad thing. Having food on a holiday with your family is not a bad thing. However, under fueling your body all day long, and then over fueling it at one time is not a self-honoring thing to do.
My recommendation on Thanksgiving is to treat the day as you would any other day that you are being mindful of your health and wellness. Begin the day with a beautiful nourishing breakfast that is rich in protein and fiber. Coffee AFTER breakfast, not before. Enjoy a family walk, game of football, or dance party to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas. 😊 Have a well-balanced lunch that is volume heavy of veggies, a lean protein source and a healthy fat such as a leafy green salad with pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds, and avocado, topped with chicken or shrimp. When the big meal approaches, fill up on whatever fibrous vegetable option there is, have protein second and the starchy tastes last. By getting fiber and protein first, you will help the body to digest food more slowly, allowing your body to recognize those fullness cues more easily. Allow yourself to taste the foods that you desire with no guilt and shame but chew slowly, savor, and be mindful while you eat as a way to not offend the body by making it feel too stuffed. After the meal, aim to move your body again because movement after food helps insulin do its job by moving blood sugar inside the cell where it will help blood sugar to be more balanced.
Other tidbits to remember around the holidays:
- Get plenty of sleep – being overly tired is recipe for increased cravings.
- Manage stress – elevated cortisol from stress is another ingredient in that recipe for increased cravings.
- Stay hydrated – Remember to drink water all day long. This will prevent dehydration and allow the body to be more aware of hunger/fullness cues rather than confusing it with thirst.
- Gratitude/Mindfulness while eating – I have so many patients that express food fear at the holidays. Let go of the fear. Trust yourself. Take a deep breath. Put both feet on the floor and listen to your body. You know more than you realize. Don’t let the busyness of the day, the stress to impress, or Aunt Karen’s (sorry Karen) criticism distract you from honoring your own needs and desires. Look at your food. Smell it. Appreciate the colors. Pay attention to the flavors. A body that is stressed while eating will raise cortisol while eating. Eat with calmness, gratitude, and joy.
Dana’s Thanksgiving Day Example
(obviously your day doesn’t need to look just like mine, but the principles can be applied)
- Early to bed the night before
- Wake up naturally to no alarm.
- Eat a small serving of carbohydrate such as ½ – 1 whole banana and start drinking water.
- Morning workout
- Breakfast – the same delicious blood sugar balancing breakfast that I eat most days of the week to keep predictability and consistency.
- Coffee with collagen and no sugar added creamer.
- Cooking and holiday tasks
- Lunch – big salad that includes protein, complex carb, and healthy fat such as chicken, pomegranate seeds and avocado.
- Midday Movement – maybe a short walk or a pushup challenge with my son.
- Snack – Eat as though it is any other day. If you are used to a snack between lunch and dinner, then still have one. Maybe an apple, some nuts, or my favorite greens protein drink.
- Keep stress at bay by playing music, dancing with my pup, or reading while food cooks.
- Dinner – Enjoy the meal and the people present while eating. Deep breaths and deep gratitude.
- A round of bananagrams to finish off the day. 😊