Thanksgiving – the bane of dieters everywhere (or not)

Thanksgiving, hmph. In years past, I would have simply said bah humbug and be done with it.

Although I know that Thanksgiving is theoretically supposed to be about giving thanks, it’s always been a source of stress for me (no matter where or with whom I was “celebrating” it). I think that is, in so small part, due to the fact that I have never truly celebrated Thanksgiving. Instead, I dreaded it. I didn’t dread it so much for the time spent with family (in fact, I actually like my family – now, families – and look forward to spending time with them), but because it was the kick-off of the non-stop feeding frenzy that is the holiday season within the U.S., or to be fair, at least in my neck of the U.S.

Over the last few weeks, however, I have adopted a “pleasure-based” approach to weight-loss. I believe the originator of this approach is Marc David, author of the book, The Slow Down Diet. However, the person who got me to fully embrace it is one of David’s protegees, Jena la Flamme.

The book itself is an 8 week breakthrough diet program which is less concerned about what you eat than it is how you eat it, when you eat it, and under what circumstances. According to David your body automatically goes into relaxation mode (or pleasure). When you are relaxed, or in a state of pleasure, your metabolism heats up and you burn calories and build muscle more easily. Thus, pleasure is a weight loss dream, whereas stress (which causes your body to store fat and shut down muscle building due to the increased cortisol and insulin in your bloodstream) is a weight-loss nightmare.

Ideally, every time one sits down to eat, she should be in a relaxed state. She should breathe before, during, and after the meal (if only to trick the body that it’s relaxed). She should eat slowly and truly enjoy it. She should also forget about calories.

Shorthand: You stress about the food you’re eating, or even about the food that you’re not eating, you gain weight. When you enjoy the food you’re eating, or even the food that you’re not eating, you lose weight.

So, for the last two weeks, I’ve been doing this. Breathing. Slowing down. Not stressing about food. Really tasting the food that I’m eating, etc. And regardless of whether I’m actually burning more calories or building more muscle, I am eating less. Much less. And I’m way more satisfied at the end of a meal. Interesting.

I also realize that when I slow down enough to really taste something, I may not like it as much as I thought I did. A few night ago, for example, M was eating blue corn tortilla chips that smelled awesome. I enjoyed the smell – in fact, I got a tremendous amount of pleasure from the scent. However, when I finally tried one, and really took the time to savor it, it was too oily. In fact, I ate half – yes, half a chip – and threw the other half away. I’ve had similar experiences with chocolate that I used to eat huge blocks of. I’ve also gotten rid of my peanut addiction (touch wood), not by not eating or determining that I don’t like it, but enjoying it when I eat it. You see, what was happening before was that I was eating it, but I wasn’t tasting it. I wasn’t savoring it. I’d literally eat 4 – sometimes more – tablespoons in a 2 or 3 minute sitting and still want more. However, when I put 1 tablespoon in a chocolate hemp shake and sit down and really taste the cold peanut butter chocolate goodness…I am more than satisfied.

So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving?

Well, I got an email from Marc David this morning the following subject line: Can Thanksgiving Really Make Your Metabolism Run Hotter?

To do it justice, I will just reproduce it here, in it’s entirely:

Dear Kathryn

Last week I was contacted by CNN so they could get some “expert” advice on how not to eat like a pig when eating your turkey. Every year for the last several decades, some major news outlet asks me such questions around Thanksgiving as if they’ve never been asked before. Seems that too many people are worried about eating too many calories, which would mean too many extra pounds, which means too many subsequent days of punishing exercise and food prison. What a conundrum. We’re trying to celebrate the “discovery” of America, which we didn’t really discover, by giving thanks for such bountiful amounts of food, which we feel guilty about eating. I wonder if the pilgrims were as concerned about fitting into those cute colonial clothes as we are about fitting into our yoga pants.

So, when the young smart eager-to-learn interviewer at CNN asked me what the best strategy was to limit our appetite around the holidays, I had one rather un-profound answer:


I went on to say that I felt we needed, as a culture, more ritual. But the healthy kind of ritual. The type of ritual where we can stop the work, slow down, feast, feel, discuss, giggle, pontificate, resuscitate, inebriate, integrate, and above all else, celebrate. Far too much time is spent in the American way of chasing after more. Yet more never seems to be enough. Giving thanks is a rather odd notion in the material times we live in. Some of us have so much access to so much food that we’ve become enslaved to our fears of eating, our fears of body fat, and gripped by the massive illogic of media images that would have our women looking like fashion-conscious starvation victims, and our men looking euro-slim and cash heavy.

Ritual can heal us. The human psyche loves repetition, loves eternally returning to a happy and holy place. Thanksgiving is as good as it gets. Calorie-count another time. Give thanks for food, for love, for life, for your body, for what you have right now. Healing happens when love is present. Metabolism gets hotter when we relax. Digestion is empowered when we feel pleasured. And food increases in nutritional value when it’s shared with others.

Thank you for your continued friendship and camaraderie and support. Though we likely haven’t met, I believe you and I are enthusiastic about and committed to the same positive messages about food, nutrition, health, and Life. The world needs so much healing. Lets give thanks that we are fortunate enough to be up to the task. And for one day, and at least one day, lets celebrate the Journey.

My warmest regards,

Marc David
Founder & Director
Institute for the Psychology of Eating

It seems scary, but I think I’m going to do this.

This year I am going to celebrate Thanksgiving. I will count my blessings. I will express my gratitude and my love for those around me and for those who are further away. I will nourish my body in a state of relaxed joy and consummate pleasure.

Now, does this mean that I’m going to eat everything in sight? No, it means I am going to slow down, taste my food, only eat what tastes wonderful to me at that moment and will make me feel good for the rest of the day, and check in with myself regularly to see if the current bite tastes as good or less good than the bite before. I will also make sure that I am eating for energy, instead of putting myself into the traditional Thanksgiving come.

In other words, I will celebrate the food. I will celebrate my family. And, perhaps most importantly, I will celebrate my body, because without her, everything else would be for not.

What are you doing this Thanksgiving?

Happy Holidays!

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