Thanksgiving Without Weight Gain


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Thanksgiving is around the corner and we are starting to see inspirational quotes like “There is always something to be thankful for”. There are also quotes about Thanksgiving that are meant to be funny. And the majority of them follow these lines: “Happy Thanksgiving! Remember to set your scale back ten pounds this weekend” or “Thanksgiving, man. Not a good time to be my pants”. Are they actually funny to people who struggle with weight or do they feel more accepted? I’m not sure.

We are all aware of the food temptations of the Holidays. It’s certainly a tough time to be watching our waistline and staying true to our health goals. Interestingly, November and especially December is when I see fewer people coming through my nutrition practice doors. Why do we reach out for help less when it gets harder for us to stay on track with our health goals? It’s almost like we choose to not get help when we need it most. 

How can we enjoy Thanksgiving without weight gain? Let’s take a look at what might be going on during the Holidays with regard to our commitment to weight loss or other health goals. We’ll discuss how permission to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast can actually improve our chances of not gaining weight over the Holiday season. And that talking to a friend or a professional before and during this challenging time of the year is a great self-supporting strategy.

“What-the-hell” effect

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. in her book The Willpower Instinct describes an interesting phenomena that she calls the “What-the-hell” effect. She explains that when we use self-criticism and guilt as a strategy to increase self-control it actually backfires. As a result we end up eating or indulging in other ways more not less. It’s as if we say to ourself: “I’ve already broken my diet, so what the hell”. Curiously, it’s not the initial overeating that causes the What-the-hell effect it’s the feeling of guilt, or shame, or being out of control. It’s the self-criticism and negative self-talk like “I’ll never change” or “what is wrong with me?” that cause an even bigger relapse. Feeling bad about overeating will only makes things worse.

Permission to indulge? You must be kidding

Giving yourself permission to enjoy and eat as much as you like on Thanksgiving night might actually help prevent overindulging that day and many days after. It’s counterintuitive to what most people think but that’s what study after study confirm. Even thought we often believe that the problem is not that we are too hard on ourselves, it’s that we are not hard enough. And we think that we need that controlling, parental voice in our head to restrict us. And if we don’t focus on our weakness and don’t criticize ourselves enough we’ll just continue overeating. In reality, what we learn from the research is that self-criticism leads to less motivation and worse outcomes. Feeling bad only makes us give in. On the contrary, kindness, forgiveness and compassion to ourself encourage us to get back on track with our goals. 

Thanksgiving is not a deal breaker

In addition, it’s really not about what you do for one night out of the year that’s going to determine your weight. It’s what you do consistently day after day that’s going to make a difference. And it’s not the overeating itself but how you feel about it that’s going to affect how soon you can get back on track. So what I recommend is to show yourself kindness and compassion. Give yourself permission to just enjoy the food and the company of people you are with. Talk to yourself as a very good friend or a mentor would, as someone who’s rooting for you, supporting and encouraging you. What would you like that friend to tell you? And if you need words of encouragement from someone other than yourself reach out for help. I’d be happy to talk to you.