Thanksgiving Day Tips to Help You Practice Gratitude and Make Peace with Yourself, Food and Others
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day spent feeling...thankful . However, somewhere along the line, this practice has been challenged by society in many ways. One prominent issue I notice (because frankly, I'm a dietitian and may be hyper vigilant when it comes to detecting food behaviors) is the negativity surrounding the very emblem of Thanksgiving Day - food! The holiday season in general seems to coincide with guilt surrounding food choices and Thanksgiving appears to be the starting line. However, what if I told you that it didn't have to be this way? What if you could make peace with yourself, food and others this season and begin a loving relationship that is free from guilt and negativity surrounding food choices? Keep reading to learn simple tips regarding food, attitude and gratitude!
Ignore the Notion That You Need to Earn Your Food
I hear this notion of needing to "earn" our food often, whether it's at a gym, when I'm with friends and family or simply when I'm out and overhearing conversations around me. We do not need to earn food. We rely on food to live. Food is a basic right. We also have the right to enjoy our food. If you eat more than you typically consume on a holiday, chances are your body will balance that out naturally by regulating your hunger, if you choose to listen to what your body is telling you. Truthfully, the amount consumed on one day is unlikely to have any significant impact on weight or overall health. Aim to consume nutrient-dense foods often and allow yourself to consume foods that may be less nutrient dense as a part of a balanced diet. However, do not allow yourself to fall prey to the notion that if you eat a large slice of pie and an extra helping of your favorite foods on Thanksgiving (or any other holiday, or day for that matter) you need to do additional activity to burn these calories. Consuming a diet rich in nutrients consistently is more likely to have a beneficial effect (and is less likely to make activity seem like a drag - more on this later)!
Remember Food Does Not Define You
I previously posted my thoughts on calling foods "good" and "bad" (Hint: I don't approve of these terms as food descriptors - you can check out my previous post here). However, something that is perhaps more important is the fact that eating certain foods does not define you as a person. You are not a bad person if you love sweets. You are not a bad person if you love pasta. You are not a good person if you love spinach. These ideas simply to not equate - food is food and you are either a good person or a bad person (hopefully not) based on character traits, not food preferences and choices! So, remember that the next time you start to think you've "been bad lately" when referring to food choices.
Be Thankful For the Ability to Move Your Body
I love to exercise on Thanksgiving. I don't exercise as a way to negate calories consumed later in the day and I don't exercise because as a way to prevent weight gain. I enjoy exercise on this day for a few reasons:
I am typically not working on this day, allowing more time in my schedule to do something that I enjoy.
I only engage in activities that I genuinely enjoy and I do not force myself to do activities that I dread.
I feel good when I move. I especially feel good when I move on a day when I am more sedentary than usual.
I appreciate the fact that I am able to exercise and engage in activities that I enjoy. I recognize that many people cannot do this and I do not take it for granted. I am reminded of this more so on a holiday focused around gratitude.
I've mixed up my workouts on Thanksgiving day in the past, ranging from a turkey trot with my family to a solo spin class. However, in recent years, I've recently honed in on the activities that I truly enjoy and for me, nothing beats barre. So, that's where I'll be on Thanksgiving morning, feeling thankful for how strong my body is that it can sustain the class and feeling thankful for how the physical challenge can clear my mind. I'm also thankful for any class where athleisure is totally acceptable!
Be Thankful For the Food on Your Table
Instead of focusing on the food you shouldn't eat, be thankful for the abundance of food that is on your table and recognize that many others do not have that luxury. Food scarcity and hunger is a problem worldwide and despite the fact that in the US there is a focus on obesity and the abundance of food, there is a major issue regarding food waste and hunger in our own backyard. This is not to say you should gorge yourself in order to join the clean plate club three times over and minimize waste, but there are a few steps you can take to prevent food waste in a healthful way and encourage gratitude among yourself and your guests this year, including:
Be practical when planning your meal (and apps and desserts). If you are expecting 15 people, you do not need to prepare food for 40 people. Of course, there is likely to be an abundance of food prepared on Thanksgiving in many houses, however, if you have multiple dishes, it is unlikely that everyone will eat all of the dishes, so plan accordingly in terms of servings.
Consider donating food that is excessive to a nearby shelter or food bank. Just make sure to check the regulations, since there are often rules regarding opened food.
Embrace leftovers and get creative by repurposing your favorite holiday food! Maybe turkey on plate gets boring after a few days, but try creating a Thanksgiving-themed sandwich, salad or grain bowl with leftover turkey, cranberry sauce (check out my easy and delicious cranberry sauce if you need last minute inspo here) and veggies or completely reimagine your meal and make something totally different, like a turkey cranberry casserole or pot pie. Leftovers can be exciting if you add some creativity!
Be Thankful For The Food Restrictions You Don't Have
As a dietitian who specializes in repairing gut health and food relationships, I work with many people who need to avoid certain foods due to medical reasons, such as allergies, sensitivities and symptom management diets and protocols. When I meet with a patient who has just been diagnosed with celiac and explain the many dietary changes that need to be made, I always wonder in the back of my head why someone would voluntarily sign up for dietary restrictions when they don't have a reason to avoid a particular food or food group. Also, as an individual with a few food allergies, I can personally attest to the inconvenience and difficulty surrounding food choices. If you need to eliminate a food or food group for medical reasons or strong personal preference (i.e. choosing to avoid meat or animal products related to views surrounding animal rights), that is one thing. However, choosing to impose dietary restrictions on yourself when you are fortunate to not require them can create stress when it is not needed.
If you do have dietary restrictions, navigating the holidays can seem difficult. Below are a few tips to reduce stress this season and make peace with food, and those making your food:
If you have a serious dietary restriction, such as a medical need (i.e. food allergies, celiac disease, etc.) speak up and let the host know. However, do not expect the host to bend over backwards without any help from YOU! Offer to bring a dish (or a few) that you know you can eat, recommend a gluten-free bakery in the area or offer to bring something from there (if a gluten-free dietary restriction is the issue) and if the host is open to this, share how they can take steps to make this holiday safe for you (i.e. limiting risk of cross contamination, etc.). Also, having a snack or meal prior to leaving your house can be helpful in the event that there are not safe foods (or many safe foods) offered.
If you have self-imposed dietary restrictions (i.e. you are currently following a specific diet, such as keto or whole30), you may want to think twice about disclosing this and imposing on your host. If you are very close with them, you may decide to let them know, or they may already know and cater to you. However, if you are not as close with the host or you know they are expecting a ton of people, be considerate, bring something you know you can eat and leave it at that. It is likely there will be at least a few more options that comply with your needs in addition to the dish you offer to bring. Unless they ask specifically, they likely did not sign up for altering their sweet potato casserole.
Be Thankful For Your Family, Friends or Whoever You Choose to Celebrate With
While this day tends to be food-focused, do not lose sight of the overarching theme of gratitude in all aspects of your life, including the ability to spend time with family and/or friends who love and support you. Perhaps you do have dietary restrictions and you are feeling upset regarding these new, necessary rules in your life, or perhaps you have experienced a recent setback with regard to health, work, finances, etc. No matter what curveballs life may throw at you, if you have at least one person to share this Thanksgiving with (a best friend, a significant other, a family, a group of friends), then you should cherish those relationships and recognize how instrumental they can be in pushing you through the hard times.
Choose At Least 3 Things (Not Food or Exercise Related) For Which YOU Are Thankful This Year
It can be difficult to practice gratitude if you feel that you have experienced something terrible recently. However, sometimes it is during difficult times that you realize how fortunate you are and become thankful for what you do have. I challenge you to list at least 3 things for which you are thankful this year (not related to food or exercise). My list is below:
I am thankful for my loving, supportive husband who is my rock and propels me forward when I doubt myself. Although he has been in my life for many years now, we started our new life as a married couple about 6 months ago and it has been the best decision of my life.
I am thankful for my family and friends, who provide me with love and support. They are there for me when I succeed, but more importantly, they are there for me when I struggle. This year, my family grew and I now have in-laws who offer double the love, so I feel extra thankful!
I am thankful to do what I love each and everyday for this community, who supports me, inspires and and fuels my passion. This year, I started my business, which I have been dreaming about since I was in college about 10 years ago. I revamped my blog and at times it felt like I was starting from scratch. However, the amount that I have accomplished this year and the support I've received is something that truly triumphs any feeling in the past for me. I am forever thankful to be able to do what I love and share this passion with you!
I wish you and your family and friends the most wonderful Thanksgiving. Eat the pie (gluten free, if needed), enjoy the extra helpings, and more importantly, look around you and take in the love in the room.