Eating may be the reason for the season, but there’s a fine line between feeling pleasantly fed and gorging yourself to the point of agony. Here’s how to stay in control this year.
Show up satisfied
Have you ever walked into the kitchen starving, opened the fridge, and ate the first thing you saw (and the second, and the third…)? That’s not how you want to approach Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s tempting to arrive at dinner famished in preparation for the big meal. However, our ability to make good decisions tends to break down once we become too hungry. Instead, eat your typical breakfast, a light lunch, and if needed, a healthy snack a few hours before dinner. Focus on fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables to keep calories in check and hunger pangs at bay.
Save evidence of appetizers
Our stomachs can’t count. Our memories are even worse at math (i.e. have I eaten two bacon-wrapped dates or three?) Leaving your hor d’oeuvres’ skewers, toothpicks, shrimp tails, and chicken bones in-sight provides tangible evidence of how much you’ve eaten.
Research shows these visual reminders help us eat less. Researchers at Cornell University gave Superbowl party-goers a bucket of chicken wings. For some party-goers, researchers cleared away their bone scraps. For others, researchers provided a bowl to put bone scraps in, and left the bowl on the table. Not surprisingly, those who were forced to look at their bony remains ate 28% less.
Pause for conversation
We tend to eat less mindfully when we eat at social gatherings. Eating with others is part of the fun of Thanksgiving, but don’t let your company cause you to overeat.
When your mind is focused on your sister-in-law’s vacation photos or your cousin’s funny story, it’s not focused on your food. While most of us know not to talk with our mouth’s full, try not to listen with your mouth full, either. If you find yourself engrossed in good dinner conversation, put down the fork and give your fellow diners the attention they deserve. After they finish their point, pick the fork back up, and give your food the attention it deserves. Take a moment to notice your dinner’s colors, textures, aromas, flavors, temperatures, and mouthfeel. Savor everything about this particular eating experience—after all, it only comes around once a year!
Serve food off the table
Out of site is out of mind. You probably didn’t realize you wanted another serving of stuffing until the heaping platter caught your eye.
The tablescape plays a big role in how much we eat. The more food that’s in front of us, the more tempted we are to overeat. Especially if your favorite food is conveniently located inches from your plate. Rather, have guests serve themselves in the kitchen or at a separate serving table—and leave the food there throughout dinner. If you’re still hungry, by all means, go get seconds! By physically standing up to do so, your decision to continue eating is a more conscious one.
Eat to 80%
Remember how many Thanksgiving dinners you felt almost sickeningly full? Then remember how when dessert was served, more room in your stomach magically appeared?
Most Americans stop eating when they’re full (and in many cases, ‘full’ means ‘in pain’). Those in leaner cultures stop eating when they’re no longer hungry. In fact, the Okinawans—Japanese islanders known for their longevity—have an expression for when to stop eating. They call the concept hara hachi bu—eating until you’re just 80 percent full. Studies show that if you serve yourself 20% less, you probably won't even notice. Study participants noticed when they were served 30% less, but a 20% a difference flew under their radar.