Intuitive Eating

How to Manage Food Stress at Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is almost here…

For many, that means excitement due to having time off from work or school. A time to rest. A time spent with friends and family and loved ones. A time enjoying Grandma’s cooking, your cousin’s funny stories, or your Moms constant hugs. But for others, it can bring up a lot of dread and anxiety due to what diet culture instills in us: the fear of weight gain, overeating, or indulging in more unhealthy foods than usual. So I want to break down a few ways to help you manage food stress during Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is filled with family traditions for many people. Which means traditional dishes, that you may only get once per year. So enjoying them should be fun, enjoyable, and normal. But our culture and society’s emphasis on dieting, thinness, and losing weight (often no matter what, sacrificing health), brings a lot of anxiety and fear this time of year. With magazine headlines ranging from, “How to lose those extra 5 lbs” followed by Comforting Pie Recipes, it’s no wonder we get so confused about nutrition and how to simply nourish our bodies (& mind). 

After all, Thanksgiving is about gratitude. Being with family and friends. Enjoying the holiday with mindfulness, not worrying about how many calories is in that sweet potato pie or how much you’re going to have to work out on Monday to “make up” for it. And if you’re afraid of feeling out of control around all the food at Thanksgiving? Check out my blog post on that topic here.

Ready to get rid of that Holiday Food Stress? 

  1. Focus on nourishing your body and mind the days surrounding the holidays – maybe pack in some extra veggies the day before Thanksgiving, go for a walk with your family after the big meal, or check out that yoga class on one of your days off. Stick to your normal routine that makes you feel best around the holidays – a few days of indulging isn’t going to drastically make or break your health, it’s what your average habits look like. And remember, health isn’t just affected by the food you are eating, there are also many other important factors, such as mental health (excess stress over that slice of pie isn’t helping you be any healthier), and having social love and support, like being with your loved ones (of course, for some, being with family members can be even more stressful, so self-care and stress management is key here).
  2. If the holidays are stressful for you (family drama, travel, etc.), practicing self-care is key. Meditating, yoga, exercise, journaling, setting boundaries, taking a bath, you name it. Whatever self-care looks like for you, as it differs from person to person. Managing stress is key for checking in with your body and being able to listen to what it needs. If you’re struggling with excess stress, it can be hard to take care of what your body needs during this time. 
  3. Check in with your Hunger & Fullness cues during the day and enjoy your meal mindfully. It can be easy to dive quickly into the meal, eating delicious foods you haven’t had in a while, but try to slow down and savor your food. Eating mindfully can help you stay connected with your body- and ultimately help you honor your hunger and fullness cues appropriately (so you don’t end up with that overly stuffed sick feeling). Remember, there’s always leftovers to enjoy later, too!
  4. Enjoy a a balanced breakfast the day of – don’t skip meals! Skipping meals leads to lowered blood sugar, which can cause more cravings and overeating later on. Eat normally during the day, and don’t “save up” your calories for later – this is just a recipe for overeating. 
  5. Banish the negative diet talk. The more you tell yourself that pie is off limits, the more you’re going to think about, think about it, and think about it some more, likely to end up giving in anyways and eating even more. The more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more likely you are to eat it  (& not even enjoy it). Enjoy those foods that give you anxiety, savor them, and truly taste them! Pleasure is actually linked with satiety. Remember, a dessert here and there is not going to make or break your health. And if others’ at the table bring up the latest diet talk? Change the subject. You don’t have to engage!
  6. Prioritize sleep. We all know good quality sleep is important for overall health, but it can also affect our hunger and fullness hormones if we aren’t getting enough. Lack of sleep increases the hormone hunger, ghrelin (which tells you it’s time to eat), and decreases our fullness hormone, leptin, which signals to our bodies that we’ve had enough. 
  7. Choose your non-negotiables, pass on ones you can live without – It’s okay to say no to that one relative that’s always pushing you to get extra helpings of her pie. Since our bellies probably wouldn’t feel truly great after eating EVERY single thing that’s on the serving line, choose the foods that are your favorites (turkey, glazed ham, and cornbread for me), and maybe pass on the stuff you could live without (green bean casserole, nah). 
  8. Move your body if you can! Walking with the family after the meal can be a great way to spend time together and help digestion. And if you don’t move at all over Thanksgiving, don’t sweat it! You can get back into your normal routine in no time. Sometimes the body needs extra rest and nourishment, and that’s okay, too!

What would you add that’s been helpful for you to limit food stress during the holidays?

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