Eating less during thanksgiving dinner is a concept that’s almost counterintuitive. I mean, the one time of year you get to let yourself eat as much as physically possible is what you wait all year for on Thanksgiving. In the light of this tradition, it’s not surprising to know that the average American gains about 1-10 pounds during the holiday season — and keeps it on for another five months. So, how do you participate in Thanksgiving with your family and enjoy all of the tasty food that’s around without becoming one of these average Americans?
Carlson School Professor Joseph Redden did some research on just that and has found a solution. He suggests overeating during the holidays is probably as much mental as it is physical. Mentally, he discovered, when we categorize our Thanksgiving food more generally rather than specifically, we eat less. So, how do we apply this concept during the holiday dinner?
Basically, you want to think of the meal as a “dinner” rather than a bunch of dishes you have to “get through” or boxes you have to check. Many people may eat their plate of food thinking “Okay, now that I’ve finished my macaroni and cheese, some dressing is up next.” By adopting this mentality, you’re now seeing your supper as a mission to complete rather than a dinner to enjoy. During normal meals, we stop eating when we feel full or when we are “satiated”. However, we cannot rely on these physiological cues during Thanksgiving dinner because our psychological cues can be stronger. In a normal meal, like the lunch you bring to work, you may listen to your body when it says “okay, I’m full.” However, during the holidays, people tend to ignore this cue and continue eating even when they are absolutely stuffed.
We tend to feel less satiated when we categorize what we are eating, as described above. To override this phenomenon, you should think of the meal as a whole. Basically, think of the meal as one dinner instead of individual dishes you have to get through. Pay attention to how much food you are having rather than how many dishes you are having. This can be difficult during the holidays due to all of the family chatter in the catching up and reminiscing. However, it can be key in your efforts to not return home loosening your belt.
Therefore, make your plate at Thanksgiving like you would make any other plate. Don’t pile it high and take what you think would satisfy you on any other day. Go slowly and savor your food. This is how Thanksgiving dinner should be enjoyed rather than stuffing yourself for the sake of doing so. When you listen to your body, pay attention to how much your eating and enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner as a meal, you might just come out on top of your weight maintenance efforts at the end of the holiday season.