Thanksgiving & Food: 5 Tips To Keep In Mind

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Stuffing is always the first side dish to go. That's because it is the most precious, most desired, and most Thanksgiving-specific side on the table. You might have turkey at Christmas or Passover or any old cold-weather Tuesday. You can find pumpkin pie on dessert menus all season long. But stuffing is so good, it's been relegated to a one-day affair: It's buttery, indulgent — a carb-on-carb Bacchanalian frenzy. It's the Black Friday of food. Or, at least that's how we treat it.
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Last Thanksgiving, I was about a month into Intuitive Eating and giddy with the novelty of being able to eat anything without panic or punishment. I was also in France, where the food doesn't exactly suck. We turned my aunt's kitchen upside down making a Franco-American holiday feast with capons, chicken, roasted root vegetables, and an eye-crossingly good baguette stuffing. By the end of the night, everyone at the table was moaning and muttering remorseful promises about the gym and tomorrow. They clutched at their sides, then reached out for one last YOLO bite.
I let them have it. I'd had enough. I left the table full and satisfied — a feeling that still surprised me after every meal. It wasn't because I hadn't enjoyed that luscious stuffing. It was because I had. I had enjoyed every bite and had just as much as I wanted. Two months later, I wanted it again, so I whipped up the recipe in my own little kitchen.
Here's the first big not-so-secret that changed my Thanksgiving: You can eat stuffing in January. We think of Thanksgiving as a stumbling block, a cheat day, or a government-sanctioned binge, here to wreck your perfect diet streak. But, the truth is, it's dinner. That's it. You've already seen a slew of listicles jammed with tips like "fill up on salad" and food-police threats like "did you know gravy has exactly 42,000 grams of fat?!"
But, if you stop treating Thanksgiving like a battle, then you've already won. Here's some real-world advice on handling the holiday, the meal, and the leftovers. If you take a step back and stop listening to the nonsense, you won't spend the holiday in a post-calorie panic attack. You might actually — wait for it — be thankful.
One more not-so-secret secret: I'm writing this list as much for me as for you. I may even print it out and stick it in my bag so I can whip it out as a reality check when things get too intense, between the family and the fridge full of pie. If you need a reality check, too, reach out and I'll give you one. We've got this.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Remember...
1. It's Just Dinner.
It's just another meal. If you wanted, you could make Thanksgiving any day of the year. The only difference here is that it's dinner plus PRESSURE. But, pressure's just a feeling. You can feel that shitty feeling without letting it dictate your actions. You can be freaking out on the inside (and you likely will be, at some point next weekend; I certainly intend to be). But, taking it out on your plate won't make it better or worse. Treating the meal like just another meal sends the message to your freaked-out brain that you're okay. Because, you are. Even if dad's shitfaced and your brother announces he's a Men's Rights Activist — you're okay. I promise.
2. You Might Overeat.
For many reasons, you might actually leave the table stuffed. Maybe the meal goes long and you nibble out of boredom. Maybe you find yourself chewing and swallowing so fast because you're nervous/angry/fighting with your MRA brother. Maybe dinner started late and you were starving when you sat down. In any case, it's fine. It's uncomfortable, but it's not a tragedy. It's easy to dramatize the "crime" of overeating when you feel like a fat, bloated criminal, but rather than punish yourself, just ask yourself what happened. Maybe you can avoid it next time, if you'd rather not do it. But, remember: Everyone overeats on occasion. It happens. It's fine. This bloating, too, shall pass.
3. Some Foods Are Special.
Stuffing isn't one of them. You really can have stuffing any month of the year. (I'm still not over it.) But, maybe your aunt makes those insane pecan bars once a year and you just need another, and another. And, one to wrap up for later. If you find yourself eating past the point of full on those foods, remember that it's fine. I recently ate myself silly on pierogis in Krakow because they were holy-shit good, and I probably won't find myself in Krakow again any time soon. Trust me, sometimes a little overeating is a very good decision.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
4. Neutralize The Jargon.
"I'm being so bad!" "This is my cheat day!" "Yams are actually a good carb." OMG, shut up, everyone, everywhere. Yams are yams, Thanksgiving is a Thursday, and you are only bad because you're bugging the crap out of me with this BS diet lingo. It's hard being the only anti-dieter at the table, seeing food where everyone else sees Points. That's why it's important to keep your own ammo in your back pocket.
I sometimes make a note on my phone with a simple reminder of all the good things that have happened since I started this. After my last physical, my doctor sent me a printout of the results, noting that my blood pressure and cholesterol were "awesome!!" Now, when someone starts blabbing about how the whole milk in my coffee is toxic, I whip out my iPhone, open the Notes app, and remember how "awesome!!" I am.
5. Take Care Of You.
When you're back home for the weekend (or the whole week, holy hell), it's normal to revert back to your fussy, teenaged self. It'll happen even if you're spending the holiday at someone else's home. Whenever you step outside of your comfort zone, you're prone to be a little uncomfortable. Don't expect perfection. We all want a perfect, chill holiday with book-reading and couch-napping, but odds are good you'll have at least one moment of GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE. My advice? Get the fuck outta there.
Better yet, head that moment off at the pass and take a time-out before you melt down. Self-care doesn't have to mean bubble baths (though, they're worth a shot). It can mean wandering around Barnes & Noble for two hours, sitting on the floor and reading coffee-table books. It can mean having a meal outside the house, maybe bringing along your cousin so you guys can vent about who's mom is being the most annoying (it's yours, I'm sure). If you're absolutely stuck with the fam, get 'em in the car and go to the movies. Pick a long one.
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I wish you (and me) an exceedingly relaxed holiday. I hope we enjoy every moment and every bite. When in doubt, try thinking of something you're actually thankful for — even it's just the fact that it'll all be over on Sunday.
For real, though? I am thankful for you.
The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. You can also follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. Hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too! Share your Thanksgiving highlights, meltdowns — whatever! (And, definitely share the recipe for your aunt's insane pecan bars.) If you're new to the column, you can check out all the entries here.
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