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How to Eat Thanksgiving Dinner without Feeling as Stuffed as the Turkey

Today and tomorrow, in my Nutrition classes, I will give my annual lecture on how to eat Thanksgiving dinner.  I just read Ellyn Satter’s newsletter about one woman’s triumph over the holiday feast. What a lovely story, she shares.  Because our kids will be influenced by our actions and words on this day of repast, and sometimes foolish overindulgence, I thought it fitting to share my lecture and some additional tips for parents. Despite the intent of celebrating our bounty and blessings, Thanksgiving strikes terror in the hearts of those whose relationship with food is even mildly distorted.  Even those with the healthiest attitudes will anticipate some discomfort on the day of the feasting.  Can you enjoy the food without regrets?  I believe so.

Resolve to enjoy the day, the people, the celebration and the food. The same goes for your children.  This is a day free of food wars and nagging about table manners.  I remember Audrey offering to pray one Thanksgiving: “Turkey, turkey big and fat, becomes our dinner just like that!” My face turned beet red, but all anyone could do was laugh.  As long as they weren’t being destructive or hurting someone (that would have been out of character), they had the day off.  They could eat what they chose with no interference, or comment, from adults for their choices.  If they took too much food, no one complained that they didn’t finish it. I am fortunate that my children do not have special dietary needs; hats off to those of you who don’t get a day off.  I also never banned them from the “adult’s table”, if that is where they wanted to sit.  I always felt banished to the kitchen as a child at Grandma’s, even though the rest of the kids were there too.  It just seemed like we were missing out on something.

Now, for my food strategy.  Take a good long look at all the food that is being offered.  What is it that you really want to eat? My choices tend to run toward foods that will not be leftover, especially dishes that are served for special occasions only; that would be the cranberry salad and the pie.  Why fill up on veggies or bread that is available any day of the week? Take only those foods you desire.  No need to rush; this isn’t a contest and you aren’t racing off somewhere (hopefully). Slow down and relax while you eat so that you can relish every mouthful.  You will feel yourself filling up long before you are over-stuffed.  Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to share leftovers, and you will have plenty of room for them in just a few hours.  Don’t forget a beverage to go with the meal and to aid in digestion.

If you do overindulge, there are a few good tricks to speed up the digestive process and alleviate your discomfort.  Peppermint or spearmint stimulates digestive juices in the stomach so that the process is a bit accelerated.  A good belly laugh after a meal lowers your blood sugar more rapidly which reduces some of the over-full feeling.  Don’t even look in the direction of the couch!  Get up and move, nothing intense – a short walk will work.  Now you can watch the game or take a nap if that is what you choose.  I prefer games or conversation while cleaning up the table.  For those who are really uncomfortable, a chewable antacid may be in order.

Thanksgiving is a social day and the conversation should be positive. Talking about calories, fat, breaking diets, weight, etcetera are taboo at my house on Thanksgiving, even if they are in jest.  When they come up, I simply remind my guests that the food is for our enjoyment today and we should be thankful to have so many good choices.  I also accept only compliments for the cooking on this particular day.  My children learned at young ages that they need not bring others down if they don’t like the recipe.  Alternatively, delicious food should always bring praise to the cook.  My students would tell you that this lecture ends with my mantra: “Food should taste good, and you should enjoy eating it.”  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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