4. Your 5-Step Thanksgiving Strategy
Hey Guys. Welcome back to the podcast. I still get a kick out of saying that, and I hope the information I’ve shared with you so far has been helpful.
Today we are talking about Thanksgiving. I hope you are excited about Thanksgiving and the other upcoming holidays, though from personal experience I know they can be stressful as well. So many of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves around the holidays to make them perfect — whether it’s hosting the perfect get-together, making the perfect meal, baking the perfect cookies, getting the perfect gifts, decorating, wrapping, doing things like Elf on the Shelf as we get closer to Christmas. Add in some family dynamics, which even at the best of times can add some stress, and then top it off with tons of delicious food and it can be a recipe for difficult times if you are prone to overeating and especially if you want to be losing weight instead.
But it doesn’t have to be. And something that can drastically help is simply creating a strategy or plan ahead of time. Think about it, if you are hosting and you want things to go smoothly, you don’t just decide what to make the day of, buy a frozen turkey that day that you hope will thaw and just hope everyone shows up. That probably wouldn’t go well, right? You create a plan. You create a menu, talk to people about what they want to bring so everybody doesn’t show up with mashed potatoes. You invite people ahead of time and you tell them what time they should come over and what time dinner will be. And even if you’re not hosting, you make a plan too — about where you’re going, what you’re bringing, you plan a time to go to the grocery store, and when you’re going to make the food. You might even plan your outfit and look up directions to where you’re going, plan for traffic, etc.
And this is something we might not even be really conscious about. We want the day and the meal to go smoothly and so we plan for it.
And so if we also want to prevent overeating on Thanksgiving Day, we need to plan for that as well. So often with eating, we fly by the seat of our pants. Or worse, we set a vague intention that we’re going to “be good” — but then we don’t follow up and define what “being good” actually means. Is it just turkey and vegetables? Can stuffing and gravy be involved? What about cranberry sauce? And what about dessert?
Setting a vague intention like this is one of the absolute worst things we can do for two reasons. 1. All those in-the-moment decisions use up a ton of your brain energy which is going to make you cranky and tired later on and is also likely to make you crave some quick energy in the form of sugar. So by the time dessert comes you’re likely to eat it whether you’re full or not and you probably won’t enjoy it as much as you could have if your brain were well-rested.
And 2, our brains are wired to look for problems. It’s what we do for survival. So if you never define what “being good” is, I guarantee you’re going to find a reason to feel bad, even if you really have no reason to. At the end of the day, managing your eating is really about managing your brain.
So I have 5 steps to share with you to help you create a positive Thanksgiving meal experience.
Step 1: Define your goal and make it positive
It’s hard to aim for a negative like “not overeating” so let’s reframe that. I personally like to use a 1–10 worst to best scale and make my goal to make Thanksgiving Dinner an 8 or 9 out of 10. Why not a 10 out of 10? Because our brains don’t like it when we miss our expectations. If you expect a 10 out of 10 and you only get 8, even though you actually had a good experience you’re going to be disappointed. So keeping your expectations slightly lower is always a good strategy. And if you exceed your expectations, so much the better. Our brains LOVE it when that happens.
And so what would it mean to make my Thanksgiving Dinner an 8 or 9 out of 10? Well, for me it would mean that I eat food I enjoy, avoid food I don’t, that I have a balance of healthy food and in there so I don’t feel icky afterward. And I also don’t want to overeat — meaning that I don’t want to eat much beyond being comfortably satisfied and full. I want to optimize tasting my food, but I also want to optimize how my body and brain feel after the meal. Feeling extremely full is going to make me feel bad physically and that has the potential to create some negative thoughts for me as well.
And I also want to save room for dessert. I’m deciding ahead of time that is important to me so I can plan accordingly.
Your goals might look like mine or they might not. And that’s 100% ok. As much as I preach that Overeating is the Enemy, if you want to choose to eat more than you know your body wants, that’s ok too. There are a ton of people who manage their weight successfully and plan to wear stretchy pants on Thanksgiving and overindulge. That absolutely can be done if you’re in control and don’t judge yourself for it later.
2. Create your plan to achieve that goal
Ok, so step 2, is where you plan how to achieve that goal. This is where you can actually consider what food is going to be served, what you plan to eat, and how much. And here you’re likely going to need to be flexible. Even if you’re the host, someone might bring something special that you weren’t able to plan for and that’s ok. Think of this as a flexible strategy, not rules set in stone.
Now one strategy might just be to have small portions of everything. That’s great.
Another might be to skip foods that you don’t like as much so you can load up more on your favorites.
You might also want to plan to make something specific that you know you love or will help you keep some balance of healthy if that’s part of your goal.
For example, I really don’t care for turkey at all. I might have the obligatory piece, but at most that’s going to be just a bite for me. I’m also not a big fan of mashed potatoes, though they are on the menu because my husband can’t have Thanksgiving without them. And that means I can eat a bit more of what I really like, and that’s stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. But if that’s all I eat, I’m not going to feel good. For me, beans, grains, and veggies are staples that make me feel good, so in addition to making stuffing with extra veggies, I’m also going to make some kind of bean and grain side dish. That’s not something traditional in my family, but I’ll use thanksgiving flavors to make it festive and it will leave me feeling good at the end of the meal. I’m also adding some sausage or pancetta to the stuffing because that’s where I really want to indulge.
And like I said, I really want to save room for dessert. I’ve had a trifle dish for years that I’ve never used, and this year I’m making a pumpkin cheesecake trifle and I want to be able to enjoy that afterward. And that is really going to motivate me to eat extremely reasonable portions at dinner and a good deal less than I would if I weren’t planning to eat dessert.
Wiggle room and a few backup plans are also in order here. For example, I might get carried away at dinner and really not have room for dessert when the time comes. And my plan b, in that case, is to skip the dessert on the day of and have some the next day instead. I’m hosting and I’m sure there will be lots of leftovers, so that’s realistic for me. Although if I were at someone else’s house, I would not be above asking for some dessert to go. Figure out where you might have to compromise and have a realistic option that you can be satisfied with.
3. Decide to love your plan.
Step 3 is to decide on purpose to stick to your strategy and to, LOVE the shit out of it. Please excuse that bit of swearing. I really want to emphasize this point. Your amazing power as a human being is that you get to make decisions. You get to decide what your entire life experience means, and that includes how you’re going to think about your Thanksgiving meal. And you can decide that you made the best plan for you and you can decide to be satisfied with your experience ahead of time.
Second-guessing yourself is a guarantee that you will be disappointed. You are already planning on missing out when you do that. Instead, commit fully to your plan and by commit, I don’t mean begrudgingly do it. I mean put your faith and heart into it.
Come Thanksgiving day, I am going to be telling myself that skipping the turkey was one of the best decisions of my life, not because turkey is so terrible, but because I want to feel great about my plan.
If you’re not restricting yourself, this shouldn’t be too hard, and if you find that it is, maybe you need to reevaluate.
4. Visualize your meal happening according to plan
Step 4 is to actually spend a few minutes visualizing what you planned. See what your plate is going to look like, imagine savoring the food and the company, and imagine the level of fullness that you want to achieve at the end. And, harkening back to step 3 — imagine yourself enjoying the heck out of the food you planned. Imagine yourself enjoying the heck out of sticking to your plan and accomplishing a job well done. Imagine your backup plans and imagine the satisfaction that you’ll have with yourself for putting this effort into yourself.
Consciously visualizing like this really primes your brain to match this experience when the time comes. Our brains love to predict outcomes and when we predict correctly we get a sense of reward, so if you really create your plan, write it down, and visualize it you will be much more motivated to make it happen.
5. Forgive yourself if it doesn’t go exactly as you thought
And lastly, Step 5 is to forgive yourself if you don’t completely stick to your plan. It’s all too easy to overeat in situations like these so where much attention is placed on the meal and the food is delicious and plentiful. Pat yourself on your back for making the effort in the first place, congratulate yourself for all those areas where you did stay on plan, and then reflect and learn from those areas where you didn’t and come up with a take-away for how you can do that bit a little better next time.
There is no failure in this journey. And if you think you’ve failed, just remember that thought is going to make you more likely to overeat later on. Overeating is going to use that thought against you and you don’t have to think that way. Choose to think about your experience in a way that makes you MORE powerful than overeating. Because that is the truth. You are more powerful than overeating. You just have to start thinking that way and put in a little effort to outsmart it.
So, let’s do a quick recap of the steps:
1. Define your goal, make it positive & write it down
2. Create your plan to achieve that goal, again, write it down
3. Decide to love your plan. Tell yourself that you made the best plan ever because you did.
4. Visualize your meal happening according to plan and see yourself enjoying it. See yourself having that 8 or 9 out of 10 experience ahead of time.
5. And 5 forgive yourself if it doesn’t go exactly like you thought it would and create a positive interpretation of the experience that empowers you. Overeating wants you to disempower yourself, so just don’t go there. Trust me, you don’t need that.
You are amazing, you really are going to make the best plan ever. I will be thinking about you while I do NOT eat turkey and while I enjoy my dessert. I love you, and I’m thankful that you’ve been listing.
Thank you so much, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.