While the tradition of a bountiful family meal each year is a thought worth salivating over, it also rekindles memories of the yearly holiday battle with weight gain. But you don’t have to repeat this inner fight yet again. Instead, you can choose to approach this dilemma by understanding your inner conflict and working toward resolving it with a constructive inner dialogue. To begin this process, you must gain awareness of your struggles in an accepting, nonjudgmental way.

In my last blog, Unhappy with You? How to Turn That Around, I introduced the idea that you can STEP into awareness to make personal changes in your life. With regard to Thanksgiving, you can approach the dinner table with greater self-awareness and a better plan for enjoying the meal by attending to your Sensations, Thoughts, Emotions, and Patterns as follows:

Sensations: Awareness of your bodily sensations can guide you in a number of ways. For instance, if you eat slowly and pay attention to the taste and texture of your food, you will enjoy the meal more and be less likely to just keep shoveling it in. Of course, in such a lively atmosphere, you will need to be particularly conscientious to be this mindful. An added benefit of eating in this way is that you have a chance to feel a sense of fullness, which can be your signal to stop eating.

Thoughts: Because there are many reasons that people overeat during Thanksgiving, there are many thoughts that can lead to such overeating. For instance, if you think of Thanksgiving dinner as a time to eat until you have to loosen your belt, you will likely do just that. You risk a similar result if you believe that you need to eat everything on your plate so that your host isn’t insulted. However, by being conscious of your thoughts, you can question their accuracy, such as asking yourself: Do I really think that eating until my stomach hurts makes for a better Thanksgiving? Greater awareness of your thoughts also gives you the chance to problem-solve in a different way, such as by choosing smaller helpings of each food so that you can try it all (if you really want to) without overeating.

Emotions: Awareness of your emotions is essential because people often eat for emotional reasons. They eat to rejoice as well as to soothe themselves when upset. So, before you put food in your mouth, ask yourself how you are feeling. If you are eating for emotional reasons, you can then make a conscious choice to respond to them in a non-food related way. For instance, you might choose to talk about your happiness or, if you are upset, to reach out to a supportive family member for comfort.

Patterns: People often operate on auto-drive, especially when they are distressed, overwhelmed or over-stimulated. To avoid this kind of robotic emotional eating, it helps to know your patterns of how you respond to distress and what kind of problems you might face.

If your pattern is simply to eat everything that looks good, then just trying to limit your eating will be stressful. Instead, you can decide ahead of time how you would like to approach eating. For instance, you might eat a healthy snack right before going to your holiday meal, plan to take smaller portion sizes, and then decide whether you really are hungry before reaching for more.

However, your situation might be a little for complicated and related to family dynamics. For instance, if you tend to eat sweets when your mother pushes your buttons at family events (which she often does), you can plan for this. Armed with this knowledge, you can plan ahead for how to handle it, such as by having your spouse agree to come to your rescue when necessary or by pre-planning an after-meal walk with a family member who is supportive.

With such greater self-awareness and responsiveness based on this awareness, you will enjoy the Thanksgiving meal more… and do it guilt-free. Bon Appetite!!

Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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