Food Addiction: How to Avoid Binge Eating on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner

By Kenneth England, MFT, Primary Therapist, Malibu Promises

Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family, good food and gratitude. But it is also synonymous with overeating. Everyone has permission to stuff themselves like a turkey on this holiday, and if you are someone with food addiction or binge eating disorder, it may be challenging to maintain your food plan ― unless you plan ahead.

You will have the most success getting through this holiday if you consider and prepare for the triggers that may be embedded in the situation.

  • Emotional triggers. Difficult family dynamics, negative or upsetting relatives and agitating conversations can all make you want to overeat. (For example, when people argue over their political views.)
  • Food triggers. It could be that one plate of food is manageable but pumpkin pie is your kryptonite. Knowing the ways in which the sight, smell and proximity of food affects you is important.
  • Environmental triggers. People sit down to Thanksgiving dinner expecting to eat themselves into a food coma — and may want you to. Identifying relatives who tend to overeat and push food on you can save you from being swayed.

Here on some tips on how mindfulness and conscious preparation can help you avoid binge eating on Thanksgiving.

  1. Make it your special mission. If sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner without overeating seems like mission impossible, challenge yourself to do it differently this year. In the past, you may have taken on overeating as a mission. But with the new tools you acquired in food addiction treatment, you now have the power to transform this into a healthful mission based on self-care and honoring your body and emotions.
  2. Set intentions. If binge eating disorder and/or food addiction is an issue for you, clear intentions are crucial. Filling your plate with healthier foods first can help you fill up.   Also, find out exactly what will be served and plan for a balanced meal, such as three slices of turkey, a scoop of stuffing and vegetables. Or, decide you will have one full plate of food (no seconds) and one dessert. If it makes you feel that you are having a richer eating experience, take two half-servings so that you can fill your plate again. Or, ask Mom to pack those “seconds” for you to take home for the next day.
  3. Avoid sugar. Identifying which foods on the table have sugar can also help you avoid overeating traps. It can be hidden in everything, not just the cranberry sauce. Foods with sugar tend to get into your system faster and excessive amounts of sugar can flood your system, setting off cravings for more and other reactions, like a change in mood.  Studies show sugar can have the same impact on the brain as drugs. If Grandma’s traditional apple pie is too rich and sugary, bring a sugar-free version so that you don’t feel deprived. Carbohydrates turn to sugar, so balance the meal with protein.
  4. Connect and converse. When dealing with binge eating disorder and food addiction, it is not uncommon to make food the focal point. Food on the table can be distracting and it may make you anxious. Focusing on connecting with others and engaging in conversation can be uplifting ― and distracting. Try to focus on some meaningful moments with loved ones.
  5. Don’t stuff emotions with food. If you feel too overwhelmed ― either family dynamics, early trauma or exposure to so much food ― excuse yourself and take a timeout. Go for a walk, or sit in another room for a while, but remove yourself from the situation. Taking a few moments to do mindful breathing (slowly breathe in and out to the count of five) will help you gain perspective and calm down.
  6. Bring a friend.  Family dinners can devolve into emotional upsets and a breakdown of barriers on any occasion, so if possible bring along a friend this Thanksgiving who has been in food addiction treatment for support and to help you stay accountable. A supportive friend can help buffer you against emotional triggers set off by family. If you can’t bring an ally, have a way to call or reach out to your food addiction sponsor or friends in an eating recovery program.
  7. Stay on top of a binge. Be clear about when you are crossing the line into the danger zone, like when you start to think, “Oh I want more of this and, damn, I am just going to eat it.” That’s when it is time to stop and do a body check and determine: Are you really hungry or do you just crave more food? Is your body feeling satisfied, or full? Are you using food to stuff down feelings?  Beware if you hear yourself saying, “One more can’t hurt.” It is very easy to step into a binge from there.  But you can also choose to pull yourself away, breathe, leave the room or just tell yourself, “enough.” Research shows that just a short period of meditation can help with binge eating disorder.

Thanksgiving is a carb-heavy holiday and it can also be a time of stressful family reunions. Take time to prepare for that day in all ways. Commit yourself to a plan of self-care and well-being, no matter what powers are upon you ― including your grandmother who says, “eat, eat.”

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