How to Find Peace With Food This Thanksgiving

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.

In a culture that tells us to restrict and restrain around food, holidays like Thanksgiving can produce anxiety.

What if you overeat? Should you indulge in desserts, or avoid them altogether? What's a "normal" amount of calories to consume?

When you start eating, it's as though a force larger than you takes over. Your mind might fire mixed signals: both, "Pump the breaks!" and "It's [insert special occasion] -- I deserve to eat this." And you barrel on ahead, eating far past satiety.

The following day, you wake up with all the guilt. All the shame. You tally up how many calories you'd have to burn to work off the meal. Oof. You'd be running for hours.

Then maybe you return to severe restriction (calorie counting, weighing food), or speed further off the rails (binge eating, overeating). Repeat cycle.

I've experienced this roller coaster many times over, and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

In healing my relationship with food and helping my coaching clients do the same, I've amassed a set of tools to help you find peace with food this Thanksgiving (and always!).

Three principles guide my suggestions:

  1. Food is pleasure. We're fearful of embracing food as pleasure, because we think that would threaten our control over our diets. This works against all human instinct -- we love eating because it keeps us alive! It's time to embrace pleasure, cultivate awareness, and learn to indulge very mindfully.
  2. Food is nourishment. Eating home-cooked foods of the highest quality possible (organic, grass-fed, local, etc.) is one of the deepest forms of nourishment, in all senses of the word. Taking care of your physical form is very empowering. It creates a platform for expansion in all areas of life.
  3. Food is community. Eating should help you feel more connected instead of alone and filled with shame.

Keep these guidelines in mind as we dive in and discuss the tools.

Work out on Thanksgiving morning
Get sweaty, even if it's for 15-20 minutes! Caring for your body early on will set the tone for the day. You'll be more likely to make choices that serve you (pun intended) come mealtime.

Drink water like it's your job
Thirst and hunger are similar sensations. Drink lots of water (say, 10-16 glasses throughout the day) so you feel in touch with your true hunger cues. This is especially important if you'll be drinking wine and other alcohol.

Bring a healthful, tasty dish to the table and present it with pride
Make your cooking scene fun by pouring yourself a glass of vino and cranking up the tunes. Contributing to the spread will help you feel connected with the rest of your crew, adding a rich layer to your eating experience.

Breathe before you eat
Deep, slow breathing can help calm the nervous system. If you're an emotional eater, you probably get riled before you eat (perhaps without even noticing!). Try taking 5-10 deep breaths, in and out of your nose. You'll feel the mental dust start to settle.

Make a mental LOVE IT vs. LEAVE IT list. Then indulge guilt-free.
This will help you get clear on which indulgences are worth it and which are not, cutting out the exhausting "Should I eat it? Or should I not?" game. "Love it" items are the mouth-watering treats that have you gushing to the person next to you. "Leave it" foods are tempting in the heat of the moment, but taste just "eh." Enjoy one or two "Love it" items guilt-free, then pass on the "leave it" ones without batting an eye.

Forgive yourself
Commit today and every day to forgiving yourself for your food "mistakes." Part of finding peace with food involves releasing the inner critic in favor of the non-judgmental witness. The witness holds the space for you to eventually create new behaviors. What would it look like to forgive yourself?

There you have it. I hope these tips light something up for you.

Happy eating!