Thanksgiving: Is it Better to Diet or Binge?

by | Nov 19, 2019

Thanksgiving: The Nationally Sanctioned Binge

Hello! It’s November, which means Thanksgiving. But, because of COVID, no one is going over the river and through the woods this year, so the holiday will look quite different. At least the pressure is off to make it look like that Norman Rockwell painting. Although I guess it could be photo-shopped so that everyone is wearing a mask, but we all know that painting is an unrealistic, fantasy portrayal of what eleven people sitting around a holiday table looks like.

The Commercialism of Shame

Typically, in the nutrition world, Thanksgiving is reviled as a day of health-destroying hedonistic indulgence (translate: we eat like fiends and get fat). Based on the belief that having seconds on mashed potatoes is going to be your undoing, the nutrition blogs and diet programs are cranking out articles about how to manage the holiday so you don’t gain weight. I know their hearts are in the right place, but have you read some of their suggestions?

* Eat a big breakfast so you won’t eat too much

* Eat a small breakfast to shrink your stomach so you won’t eat too much

* Drink a lot of water before the meal so you won’t eat too much

* Wear tight pants so you’ll be constantly reminded that you’re fat and so, won’t eat too much

That last one sounds dreadful and insane, right? I’m embarrassed to say that I was instructed to, and I did, give out that very advice to dozens of people a few years ago when I was working for a national diet chain. In retrospect, I hang my head. What can possibly be the benefit of intentionally making yourself uncomfortable? The commercialism of shame is staggering.

So, I started this thing off by saying that Thanksgiving is a nationally sanctioned binge, which probably led you to believe I was going to lambast the holiday and give you tips on how to control your eating. But then I insulted the diet industry and all their rhetoric, which might have suggested that I was going to encourage you to pork out and have a Thanksgiving free for all.

By now you’re probably suspecting that I’m not condoning either one of those.

Eat What You Want

It’s radical, but this Thanksgiving, without dieting or binging, I want you to eat what you want.

Here’s what I’d like you to focus on. Autonomy. Self-respect. The concept of Maitri, a Sanskit word that Pema Chodron explains as “unconditional friendship with one’s self”.

How to do this? I’ll suggest three principles. These are a few of the highlights of Intuitive Eating, a practical 10-principle approach to eating that I’ve been studying. I’m on track to be certified as an Intuitive Eating Counselor by the end of the month, so I wanted to share some of the philosophy. I think you’ll like it. It’s all about paying attention to yourself, and taking care of yourself, with the assumption that only you know what you need. You are the grown up in charge of you.

Three Principles to Make Thanksgiving Easy

I’ve taken some poetic license with these in the interest of time. But the essence is there.

Honor your Hunger.

This principle puts all the decision making in your hands. If you’re hungry, eat. This could work out really well for you, because you’re going to be surrounded by delicious, homemade food. Maybe you’re in the mood for green bean casserole. Maybe the Beer Can Turkey is calling your name. If you’re hungry, go ahead and eat.

No judgement. Honor your hunger like the natural biological fact that it is. When you get to the party, take a deep breath and see how hungry you are before you hit the buffet.

And if you’re hungry before the party, have something to eat before you go. If you’re not hungry when the meal is served, you don’t have to eat. Seriously.

There will likely be leftovers you can enjoy when you are hungry, and if not, those Parker House rolls will be back next year. People might not like that you’re not chowing down, but if you’re not hungry, you shouldn’t have to eat just to fit in. “No Thank You,” can be pretty powerful words.

Discover Satisfaction.

You don’t want to miss this one. Yes, there is a lot of food, and some of it is pretty special, a once-a-year kind of treat. In my family it’s Black Bottom Pie. In your family it might be Aunt Jeannie’s over-the-top giblet gravy or Mom’s amazing three bean salad. For some folks it’s that cranberry sauce that slides out of the can with an energizing “plock”. Whatever it is, eat it and savor it and be satisfied.

You might get what it takes with the first bite, maybe four, or maybe the whole mound of sweet potatoes does the trick. Slow down and really be there with it. Taste it, roll it around on your tongue, swallow, and take a moment to let it all soak in. Three deep breaths before the next bite, no need to rush. This is Thanksgiving and it’s special. Besides, you’re with people who you enjoy (some more than others), so take your time.

Feel your Fullness.

This suggests that you slow down and pay attention, and when you’re full, stop eating. This might get complicated, because first of all you might not have much experience walking away from food. And then Uncle Mike is going to be staring at you when you don’t finish that slice of pie, and will likely berate you for it. Keep in mind that this is more his problem than yours. People are always looking to criticize, and this is a holiday where it’s expected that we eat a lot. But if you’re feeling full and you don’t want to feel ill (your choice), and since you are the boss of you, you can stop eating. Besides, you’re satisfied, right? And there’s no need to defend that.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

These things are not easy. They require a lot of self-awareness and separation from the crowd. Most people are swimming upstream if they’re taking care of themselves. It might not be this upcoming Thursday the 26th that you can pull this off perfectly, and that’s okay. Just considering these ideas is the leg up you’ll need to feel more in tune with your personal wants and needs. This is about improving your relationship with food, getting rid of the guilt and shame. This is about your being in charge of what, when, how, and why you eat. Practice, practice, practice. The good news is that we all eat every day, several times a day, and that’s a whole lot of opportunity to get to recognize these cues and take care of yourself.

Don’t Forget to Laugh.

Like the guy said, “To thine own self be true.” In closing, I’m gonna parallel some Shakespeare and a traditional Thanksgiving theme. Admittedly stolen from

“ ‘tis burnt, and so is all the meat. Where is the rascal cook?” – The Taming of the Shrew

Your friend,


Jennifer Moore, MS, CNS, LDN, is a certified Nutritionist and Counselor who can help you stop yo-yo dieting and fix your relationship with food. Click here to set up a free consultation.


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Hi, I’m Jennifer! I’ve been in practice for over 15 years, and have helped over a hundred women heal their relationship with food.

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