Thanksgiving countdown, and some help for those feast day cravings

Here we are counting down to Thanksgiving—my favorite holiday! I used to say it was my favorite holiday because it’s all about food. Then I evolved to saying it’s my favorite holiday because it’s all about food and friends. Now I think it’s my favorite holiday because it’s all about food, friends, family and gratitude—not necessarily in that order.

I have my master list made, though the menu will probably change before the day. There will be individual lists for the days leading up to the feast, and menu planning for the other days of the week. And then there’s my daughter’s birthday, which takes place on Black Friday this year. Since we celebrate birthday weeks in our family, this adds to the list mania. (Mac and cheese is her chosen birthday dinner.)

This Thanksgiving I’m going to make sure that the turkey stays on the counter, a few steps away from the table, perhaps with a few of the heavier sides. I just want to see if we eat less turkey and more vegetables as a result. Also, I like the idea of adding a sit-down appetizer or soup course, just to see if it helps us slow down and perhaps eat a little less.

It’s fun to think about having my food scientist hat on for the holiday, but I won’t be surprised if all these bright ideas come to naught. It’s a feast, after all.

Yum.

On a more serious note, this season can be especially challenging for those of us who struggle with cravings for sweets. Here are some tips for dealing with those cravings this holiday season.

I’ve shamelessly stolen most of these tips for reducing (eventually eliminating) cravings from several PsyBlog.com posts by English psychologist Jeremy Dean. Others come from my experience, and some from Brian Wansink’s wonderful books.

  • Tap your forehead: plain old tapping, though I can attest that EFT-type tapping works too.
  • Change how you think in the moment: Focus on the long-term consequences of giving in to the impulse. I use the words “false promise” to remind me that giving in won’t give me what I really want and need, which is better health, better mood, clarity of mind, and energy—in other words, wellbeing.
  • Play Tetris, or . . . Turns out three minutes of playing Tetris can reduce cravings for food, cigarettes and alcohol. Or try a similar favorite distraction.
  • Use your imagination: Try thinking about how a rainbow looks or the smell of eucalyptus. Or stare at the sunset, or at anything, really.
  • Look at loads of pictures of food: This strikes me as the most unlikely weight-loss trick ever: looking at endless pictures of foods can make them less enjoyable to eat. My sister Gael’s trick was to look at forbidden foods and fantasize about the taste, texture, etc.
  • Go for a walk: A 15-minute walk is enough to stop food cravings brought on by stressful situations, a new study has found.
  • Protein-rich breakfast: Eating a good breakfast — particularly one rich in protein — boosts a critical neurotransmitter, which may lower food cravings later in the day. People experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast. High protein breakfasts also reduced cravings for savory or high-fat foods.
  • Chew gum: One of my favorites for warding off cravings when I’m at the grocery store. Some studies suggest it can also reduce our snack intake.
  • Sleep well: When we don’t sleep well, we don’t resist temptation well either. This is because “high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified.”
  • Pay attention to your emotions: Tuning in to your emotions is an important part of learning how to manage food cravings and lose weight.
  • Many people fighting cravings for sweets report that when they can cut out sugar, they lose the cravings. Remember that cravings are not commands, and they lose their power when we turn our attention elsewhere.

If you do give in to a craving—hey, we’re only human!—try saying to yourself, “I don’t need this, but I’m going to eat it anyway.” It may help you eat less—a bite or two rather than a whole piece—and it may help you resist a craving next time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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