Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It is also a very stressful time, especially for those who struggle with food. But you do not have to struggle with food if you follow a few basic principles:
(1) Reclaim and reframe the meaning of Thanksgiving. This holiday is about appreciation, celebrating life’s blessings. Turkey Day is about bingeing. Put the Thanks back in your Thanksgiving. The purpose of a ritual is to symbolically share an important event or relationship. But when the meaning of a ritual is forgotten it becomes an empty or hollow act. In fact, feasting is one of many thanksgiving rituals. Other cultures use dancing, silence, prayer or fasting to give thanks and honor blessings. A few years ago I was ill on Thanksgiving Day and could not eat or be around others. I spent the day reflecting and journaling about the aspects of my life for which I was grateful. I called loved ones and told them I appreciated them and toasted from afar loved ones I could not call. It was one of the richest and most meaningful Thanksgiving Days I remember.
(2) Allow yourself a plan about what you want out of Thanksgiving, what purpose food will play in the holiday and how you will handle your typical food challenges. It is very simple: if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Set very reasonable goals. This is not the time to diet or eat nothing all day. Look at your schedule. Choose events and times with others that will feel enriching and rewarding. For specific events, think how you can anticipate problems and achieve your health goals (i.e., don’t get too hungry, reconnect with particular people, focus on non-food pleasures). Prior to Thanksgiving visualize yourself being relaxed and spending quality time with important people in your life.
(3) Allow yourself support and accountability. With whom can you share your goals? Are there others in your life who also want holidays in which they maximize non-food pleasure and meaning while creating relaxed, healthy memories? Consider attending some support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous, EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous) or ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).
(4) Allow yourself ways to contain your eating. Set some ground-rules about when, what, where and how you will eat (e.g., three meals and ___ snacks, stop eating at 7:30 p.m., eat ___ plates of appetizers, eat slowly while tasting every bite). Review your goals daily. Keep a food diary as well as a journal of thoughts, feelings and memories. Use affirmations daily as well as inspirational readings. Check in with your support system frequently.
(5) Relax. Thanksgiving is not supposed to be about stress. Breathe. Walk. Pray. Laugh. Give yourself a holiday for which you can be thankful.