Occasions like Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time of celebration, togetherness, fun, reflection and gratitude. And yet they can also be a time fraught with triggers, like:

  • the sheer volume and range of food available;
  • relationship tensions, family politics, or old resentments;
  • the exhaustion that sometimes accompanies these occasions (cooking, cleaning, accommodating, and socialising);
  • worries about how you look, your size, what you’re wearing, if you think it’s flattering etc;

Here are a few things to help you navigate your way through…

1. Get in touch with your purpose for participating in the event

It’s helpful to spend some time getting in touch with why you’re going to or hosting this event. What do you want to get out of it? Why does it matter to you? What qualities or experiences do you want to bring forth or create?

What is it about it that matters to you (that isn’t about the food)?

  • Is it to connect with people you love?
  • Is it to give to others? If so, what?
  • Is it to receive something from others? If so, what?

See if you can deepen your reasons for being there. You can do this by asking yourself ‘Why does that matter to me?’ ‘What does that mean to me?’

What is the occasion essentially about for you? Is it love, connection, friendship, understanding, togetherness, fun, partnering with others to create the event – or something else?

If you find yourself giving answers like:

  • Because this is what families do;
  • Because it would upset people if I/we didn’t go;
  • Because my partner wants to go;
  • Because my parents/ children/ in-laws expect me to be there

then you are probably viewing the occasion as an obligation that you ‘have to’ or ‘should’ attend. You’re not yet seeing any benefits to you for being there. Being in a state of obligation will not be fun and makes you more vulnerable to resentment and mindless or binge eating.

It’ll help to remind yourself that you do actually have a choice. No one is forcing you. There aren’t any shoulds or have tos. It may be true that cancelling would cause a stir. It may be true that others would be unhappy – but it isn’t true that you must, have to or should go.

If this is going on for you, you may have to dig deeper for your intention for going. Sometimes going because you want to support your partner or children out of love (not obligation) is a way in to deepening your purpose for going; perhaps creating family traditions for your children; or enabling them to develop a relationship with their extended family might be important to you.

I know when I’ve found myself in these situations, I’ve looked for a growth opportunity out of it…

Can I keep my heart open?

Can I practise dropping my judgements as I become aware of them?

Or I might set myself a goal to have at least one deeply connecting conversation with someone during the event.

I might have a goal to share something personal with someone new.

2. What are you thankful for?

Bringing awareness to what we’re thankful for reminds us that, while things might be challenging, not everything is hard. It is about reflecting on what we have right NOW, instead of striving for more which may or may not be achieved sometime in the future (which can increase dissatisfaction). Experiencing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress and increase wellbeing as well as have a positive impact on sleep quality, cardiovascular health and immune function.

So – focus attention on what you’re thankful for. If you can’t think of anything, go to the basics – do you have clean water to drink? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have a pair of shoes? Take a look at the sun, the grass, a flower, the moon… Take your time to do this. It’s not about creating a bullet-pointed list (though you can do this too). It’s more about the FEELING in your body as you bring these things to mind. Breathe. Notice what happens in your body. Your breathing will probably deepen. You may feel a sense of opening or expansion in your chest, stomach, throat – or other parts of your body.

Remember this practice is not about overriding difficulty. It’s not about pretence. It’s not to bypass your feelings or legitimate concerns. It’s simply to help you to have perspective and to not only feel the difficult feelings.

3. Now, about the food!

I’m not going to go into this in detail. Briefly though:

  • Please don’t skip meals in preparation for your fear of a calorie load at the celebratory meal. Honour your hunger. If you arrive over-hungry you’re much more likely to overeat, or binge eat.
  • Survey the food. Look at what appeals to you. Be discerning. You can have whatever you want – choose what you want, not what you think you should choose. There’s no hurry. You can always go back for more if you want to.
  • As you’re not restricting or going on a diet tomorrow or over-exercising to compensate, there’s no need for ‘Last Supper’ thinking or eating. You can have more in 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days… any time you want it.
  • Check in with how hungry you are.
  • It’s ok to overshoot on your fullness. You might be a bit uncomfortable. It’s ok. Many people overshoot at these times. The important thing is not to try to compensate for this.
  • Keep checking in gently and lightly with yourself. If you’re ready to stop eating, stop. If you’re not, keep eating, telling yourself the truth about eating for the taste, or eating because you’re still hungry, or because it looks good, or because you don’t want to miss out… No judgements!
  • Mostly, be kind to yourself.

May you have a joyful celebratory meal

May it have ease and pleasure

May you go in peace

Need help making peace with food?