So You Ate the Whole Turkey. So What?

So You Ate the Whole Turkey. So What?

Don’t fret if you overdid it at Thanksgiving dinner this year. (Image by NBC)

The Feldman family’s Thanksgiving ritual stretches for three days. The eating starts the day before, with an expensive spread of smoked fish. Thanksgiving brings both hickory-smoked turkey and a prime rib, plus candied yams, mashed potatoes, peas and onions, chestnut stuffing with sausage, gravy, and three kinds of relish. Oh, and salad, too. The family leaves the table to enjoy the view of the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, and then returns for the apple, pumpkin and pecan pie.  “Two years ago I was so full I was rolling around on the floor,” says Josh Feldman, a systems engineer and whisky blogger. “Last year I was stretched out on the couch. It’s unpleasant.”

Feldman is trying to lose 50 pounds. Still, he can’t help joining in on day three as the family consumes the leftovers until everyone goes home. “It’s a diet disaster,” he says. “Or is it?” To Feldman, “as long as you don’t psych yourself into thinking you’re ‘off the rails,’ it’s actually not so tragic.”

That accepting attitude is a good one, says Alexis Conason, author of the “Eating Mindfully” and “Anti Diet” blogs and a research associate at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center. “Self-blame is just a fantasy that you can reverse the damage by telling yourself you’re horrible, weak-willed or lazy,” she says. “It won’t work.” In fact, beating up on yourself will only make you overeat again sooner, she says. 

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Even for the most dedicated healthy eaters, Thanksgiving is rough on self-restraint. Research backs up the fact that people eat more in big groups; in fact, we eat more the bigger the group, and more with family than with other people. And holiday emotions only add to the pressure, especially if you were an adult who was teased, bullied or put on diets because of weight issues as a child, Conason notes.

Turns out, the best way to recover from a day of binge eating is to indulge in kindness. That could manifest in a number of ways, Conason says, including the following:

– Calm your stomach by drinking some chamomile or peppermint tea.

– Try to eat a series of small meals that include lots of vegetables.  

 Stay away from the scale: Why upset yourself with a number that reflects water weight from the salt in the extra food?

Don’t fast or spend hours at the gym. Any regime that smacks of punishment will only reinforce the shame or blame behind eating problems, Conason says. Instead, think carefully about what would make you feel best, maybe a dance class or meeting a friend to talk.

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“Treat yourself with compassion,” says Conason, who believes that approach works year-round. The standard advice is to get right back to a healthy, everything-in-moderation eating attitude after a binge. And don’t get back on a “diet.”

“From my personal, clinical and research experience, dieting does not work. The most predicted outcome long-term is weight gain,” Conason says. “I encourage people to eat whatever they want all the time. Ironically when we do that we start to pay attention to what we actually want and listen to our bodies.” 

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