Thanksgiving & Your Relationship with Food: 3 Ways to Make it Better

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Thanksgiving is upon us.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s my favorite holiday, hands down.  There is a waft of generosity and anticipation in the air without the added pressure to fill up stockings or run around on a mission to find just the perfect gift while fighting back the road rage.

Often, there is an excuse to spend the afternoon with friends and family (read: FOO or FOC…*family of origin or family of choice).  Oh, and the embrace of crisp, clean air beckons a cozy fire and hall pass to straight chill.

Am I missing something?  Oh right, then there’s the minor, insignificant detail of the day: FOOD.

You know, that give or take, decadent Thanksgiving meal that wouldn’t be complete without turkey (we throw in duck, too), dressing, pumpkin pie, and all those very comforting sides that I eat for days in various creative renditions.  I mean, who says you can’t have pecan pie with your coffee for breakfast?  (Maybe leave off the heavy whipping cream… or just go ahead and repurpose it in your coffee, you choose.)  

Sarcasm aside, food is hands down the main event of the day.

It should be easy, right?  A rich and delicious meal, good people, gratitude…?

Not so fast.  My guess is you may have had some not so friendly dealings in your day with food as a result of body image challenges.  I know I have.  

In fact, I’ve worked really hard to enjoy food at Thanksgiving.  My relationship with food was once hateful and toxic.  I developed anorexia nervosa when I was 15.  One day, I stepped on a scale and the number staring back at me was in my estimation, too high.  So, I did what I do, and I took control, or so I thought.  I began running and eating super clean.  

Like so many extremes, this one started off pure, with a desire to be healthy and feel good about myself.  It went downhill fast, and pretty soon, at 5’6”, the number staring back at me was an emaciated 88 pounds.  NOT a good look.  

I was in a critical health crisis, and my doctor swore she’d throw my butt into inpatient care and stick feeding tubes in me faster than I could say kale chips if I didn’t agree to her plan of action.

The fact that I’ve cultivated a loving relationship with food is a glorious miracle I thank God for daily.  And, my oh my, do I love food.  I’ve come to love it in a way that respects it instead of manipulates it.  

Think about it, what if you treated a friend in a way that felt manipulative and scarce as we often do food?  What if we had thoughts about a loved one as we have about food?  

“I’m going to starve all day Wednesday so I can binge on Thanksgiving.”

“If I lose ten pounds, I’ll be beautiful and worthy of love.

I mean, seriously, I can’t imagine my relationships with people existing of such controlling and relentless behavior.  I definitely wouldn’t be my friend.  

So why do we treat food and our bodies with such fear and manipulation?

Mean Girls aside, as you glide into the homestretch of Thanksgiving Day fixin’s and the ongoing feast of the season, here are three simple tips for you bring to the table.

1) Focus on the connection, not just the consumption.

My favorite thing about a dinner party, or family dinner, or lunch date with a friend isn’t entirely the food, although that’s a fun piece of it.  It’s about the connection happening in the midst of it.  A humbling practice I learned in recovery is this beautiful notion of letting a meal be more about connecting with yourself and others than solely about consuming food.  

Thanksgiving’s central focus is gratitude; the meal is a mere vehicle of this.  As you fill your plate to the very edge this Thursday and sit down to enjoy, remember to lean into conversation and connection around you.   This allows us to really slow down and I promise the food will taste that much better.  

2) Taste your food.

This may sound basic, but it’s actually a lot harder than you think.  In our microwave society of instant gratification and epic consumerism, slowing down to taste food is a rare art form.  To fully enjoy, we must connect with our senses, and this takes a bit more awareness and time than does shoveling stuffing down the hatch.  

Immerse yourself in the experience: the smells, the texture, the spices, and maybe even what it reminds you of, if anything.  Allow yourself to be all in, again, not simply inhaling in order to get first dibs on seconds.

3) Listen to your body.

We must honor our bodies and our food by slowing down enough to hear when we’re approaching food coma status.  (And we all go there from time to time!)  

It takes 20 minutes for our bodies to register fullness.  I am queen of eating so fast I think I may need a stretcher and the ER because I’ve just inhaled entirely too much food, (Mexican food does it every time).  I didn’t give my brain enough time to tell my stomach we were maxed out—no bueno. 

Sure, we typically overdo it on Thanksgiving, and that’s okay!  It’s good to allow ourselves the grace to do so from time to time.  My hope for you and this Thanksgiving is that you will simply embrace it with open arms and a hungry heart (as well as belly).  Loosen the grip of fear that wants to control and manipulate, and bring your whole being into the occasion.  Let gratitude blanket your experience as you marinate in the richness of connection.  

Now, I’m officially hungry!  

Happiest of Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Gratitude & Love,