COLUMN: Go into Thanksgiving with an eating plan

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Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2012 11:59 pm

Thanksgiving arrives this week. The long-awaited feast is in sight!

For many, this holiday brings much food-related anxiety. With all the turkey, stuffing, rolls, potatoes, casseroles and pies, Thanksgiving can certainly be overwhelming to anyone struggling with weight issues, food issues, body image concerns, family concerns or even just general anxiety.

The key to this holiday, which is historically one of the most food-centered of all holidays, is to have a plan. In order to ensure your plan is a healthy one, key concepts should be kept front and center.

First, do not go into the Thanksgiving meal famished. Too often, individuals "save up" for Thanksgiving dinner. Skipping breakfast or lunch per-feast or even restricting calories beforehand can wreak havoc on the best made Thanksgiving goals.

When you go into a meal with extreme hunger, there is a high likelihood you will overeat and come out of the meal on the opposite end of the spectrum — extreme fullness. Extreme exercise to burn off all those extra calories is not the right approach, either. To prevent extremes, eat healthy meals prior to the holiday, enabling your normal hunger and satiety cues to help guide you when to eat and when to stop, and practice healthy movement throughout the week (and year).

Second, remember, you can always eat Thanksgiving foods on non-Thanksgiving days. There is nothing that says you must eat as much as possible of Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving and no other day. Yet, our mindset is often of overabundance on this day, with stuffed bellies from the feast. Why not plan a meal after Thanksgiving of the foods you might like to eat on the holiday but can't simply "fit them in." For instance, if cornbread stuffing is on your menu for Thursday, make sweet potatoes on Saturday. Or, save the macaroni and cheese for another night, knowing you will have plenty of bread and potatoes on Thanksgiving day.

Next, slow down! Eating too quickly can cause overeating and upset tummies. If you slow down by chewing food well and setting your fork down in between bites, you give yourself the chance to listen to your internal hunger and satiety signals better and more often recognize when it is time to stop eating. Don't forget, it takes about 20 minutes after eating for our bodies recognize that we are truly full. So, if you really want to have second helpings, give yourself a little extra time after finishing the first plate to be sure you need that second helping. Same goes for the time between the main meal and dessert.

As for dessert, have a plan. Thanksgiving is a great time to enjoy dessert — with the key word being "enjoy." It is perfectly fine and balanced to allow yourself treats from time to time. However, for some of us, dessert means guilt. How unfortunate! Dessert is just another way we can nourish our bodies and enjoy the sweetness of it. Have a plan as to whether you will include dessert on your Thanksgiving plate ahead of time. Also, decide how much is the most you will put on your plate. Putting three pieces of pie on your plate is probably overdoing it. Instead, share a plate of dessert with a loved one or just choose one piece of pie today and another the next day.

As with any meal or snack, the goal is to fuel our bodies and feel good. Guilt is not helpful and it hurts our efforts to be healthy. If you struggle with guilt as it relates to food, look at Thanksgiving as a challenge for which goals can be set. Remind yourself to practice positive self-talk and balanced eating to minimize guilt. Avoid compensatory measures in order to "save room" for Thanksgiving. A balanced plate, positive self-talk and appropriate feel-good physical activity will allow you to make tremendous strides toward this holiday becoming less challenging.