Is there a war going your head about if you should diet or take a free day? There is a wiser path to take, but you’ll still have to manage those thoughts.
Let’s Not Free Day, Ok? Let’s Not Diet Either.
I used to recommend that people take Thanksgiving as a “free day.” I thought it was a good thing — that people could balance out all of their hard work with a day that they could just focus on being with family.
But people didn’t just focus on being with family.
Because it was a “free day” they would binge. They would eat ALL THE THINGS like their life depended on it, because this was their one shot.
The whole concept of a “free day” is just as rigid as dieting. It’s saying, “these days you must restrict and these days you must binge.” There’s no choice.
Choice is always the goal.
New clients always tell me that the problem is that they feel “out of control” with food. They assume that they just need better rules, more rules, or different rules to feel in control. What they don’t often realize is that the rules they put in place caused the feelings of being out of control. When you have unsustainable rules, you’ll feel out of control when you finally snap and eat all the things.
What Is Choice on Thanksgiving? Why is That Better Than Control?
When people say control, what they really mean is choice.
We want to have choice about when we eat a thing. We want to understand why we eat a thing. We want to be in the driver’s seat with our eating.
Rules take us out of the driver’s seat. The rules are driving.
Choice is about being aware enough to consider what we want and actually do that. Do the thing that we want — with consideration of all of the things that matter to us: Family, connection, holidays, our health, our fitness, feeling good during the day, and so on.
It’s literally the pause where we consider all of those things, and then choose what makes the most sense in the context that we are in. In this case, that context is a holiday based around food, where we are hanging out with people we love.
Your Personal Values
You need to know two things:
- What areas of your life matter to you
- Who do you want to be in those areas (like, what character strengths do you want to embody)
As mentioned above, the areas of your life that probably matter to you on Thanksgiving could be: family, friendship, holidays, our health, our fitness, feeling good during the day
The ways you want to be about that might include being: Connected, self-compassionate, conscientious, loving, reasonable, playful, joyful, peaceful, or whatever. You get to pick the character strengths that matter to you. I’d recommend picking three-ish. And, I’d recommend one that includes being cool to yourself and one that includes being cool to other people.
If you want to dig in more on values, check out this post: Is Your Weight Loss Plan Making You an A-Hole
Managing Your Thoughts
The problem with all of this, of course, is that you’re still completely indoctrinated with diet thoughts from years of dieting, from friends, and from social media.
You’re going to have diet thoughts like:
- I should be dieting today
- I look terrible
- I can’t afford to take a day off from dieting
- I feel fat
- I feel so guilty eating this
You’re Going to Have Free Day Thoughts Like:
- I deserve to eat as much pie as I want
- I work so hard, today I’m going to stuff myself
- I need to eat all of this while I can
- I’ll start again tomorrow, so I should have three helpings today
- I should have seconds and thirds because this is my shot
The War Movie on TV Metaphor
It’s useful to think about both kinds of thoughts like a war movie on TV. Imagine that the soldiers on one side are the diet thoughts and the soldiers on the other side are the free day thoughts, and they’re playing a fighting. They’re shooting at each other, bombs are dropping and exploding, it’s trench warfare in your brain
Normally, people see both of these kinds of thoughts battling it out, and they spend all day trying to figure out which side is the “right” side to be on. Then they pick that side and try to “win.”
Unfortunately, whether the diet side wins or free day side wins, you lose. Basically, if you play the game, you lose.
- Don’t pick a side
- Don’t try to win
- Instead, be the chessboard
You actually aren’t either side. Both of those sides were taught to you by diet world. You are the board. You just are the brain that those thoughts are bouncing around in. The battlefield is indifferent to which side wins.
Your job is simply to notice that the battle is going on in your head. You can watch the battle go on, like a war movie on TV. The wisest path is just to watch, to notice that the war movie is on TV, without trying to get into the war and fight.
If you think about it like it’s on TV, you can make choices about what you want to eat, even though the TV is playing in the background. You can see it and hear it, but you know that you can make wise choices without engaging with it at all.
Choices are Always Context Dependent
You don’t want to have rigid rules like “I won’t have seconds” or “I won’t have any appetizers” or “I won’t have any dessert.”
Instead, you want to consider the context. For example:
- This is the family stuffing recipe and I love it so much, so I’m going to have seconds
- The biscuits actually aren’t that good this year, so I won’t have any more
- I’ve already had three glasses of wine, I’m probably good
- We have a tradition of tequila shots after Thanksgiving dinner, I’m totally in
- This tastes awesome, but I kinda feel grossly stuffed already, I’m going to stop
- I feel like I have room for pie, I’m having the pie
- I had basically two dinners, I’m going to skip the pie
- I’ve had enough food, I’m going to focus on hanging out with people
Those are just examples. Your decisions, even in those same situations, could be totally different. Things you want to consider:
- Is there a family tradition?
- How do I feel in my stomach right now?
- Is this super delicious or is it just there?
- Am I going to have leftovers tomorrow?
- Is this adding to or taking away from me connecting with people?
ALL of those things can be considered. And, they all matter. From there, whatever decision you make is fine, they whole game is that you are in the driver’s seat and you get to decide. And you get to decide based on a multitude of things that matter in your life.
That’s why diet rules are completely childish. Life isn’t so simple that one rule can fit every situation.
Make a Choice, Then Recognize Second Guessing for What it Is
If you have a loooooooooong history of dieting, then no matter what decision you make it will always feel a little wrong. You’ll always second guess yourself.
That’s actually ok. That’s just diet world thoughts. In our current culture, you’re going to have thoughts from diet world. Go back to the chessboard metaphor.
You don’t need to fix the diet thoughts or change the diet thoughts. You don’t need to make them go away.
You don’t need to treat the diet thoughts as being true. You don’t need to base your actions on diet thoughts. You don’t need to worry if they’re right.
You just need to notice that they’re diet thoughts. That they are the thoughts one one side of the chessboard or the other. Your job isn’t to “get in the game,” your job is just to notice. Be the chessboard, not any of the pieces. Watch the game fade in and out on it’s own.
Meanwhile, you choose what fits your values, and just do that.
You Are In The Driver’s Seat
The biggest obstacle to enjoying Thanksgiving is likely in your head — thoughts about dieting or taking a free day. Instead, use the war movie on TV metaphor to put yourself in the driver’s seat.
- Clarify your values. What are the different parts of life that matter to you on Thanksgiving? Who do you want to be about them? How do they all interact?
- Us the War Movie on TV metaphor: You can hear and see the diet thoughts and free day thoughts battling it out on TV.
- You can make wise choices, based on the context of a situation, without engaging in the war movie on TV at all.
Now, you’re in the driver’s seat.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
P.S. I originally wasn’t going to write a post for Thanksgiving this year, I was just going to share last year’s Thanksgiving post. But I realized it wasn’t enough, it needed to go a level deeper to get at the bigger obstacles that most people actually have.
P.P.S. Because I wrote this last minute, it may not be as cohesive or have as good of a flow as normal. There may even be (gasp) mistakes! I hope it’s still useful though. I’ll likely clean it up more later. But I wanted to get it out before Thanksgiving.