Holidays are stressful, especially for dancers who are healing their relationships with food and body. Schedules are uprooted, time away from the studio is common, and family gatherings can spark anxieties that feel more stressful than festive.
Fact: there was a time when I’d spend weeks before a holiday Googling tips about how to NOT “over”-eat. I’d map a plan for myself in an attempt to strengthen my “willpower”. Hard truth: it never worked. I’d end up giving up and “throwing in the towel.” I’d feel stuffed, bloated, and discouraged. Then I’d set another (unrealistic) goal for myself: never again.
It took years to shift my holiday experience from stress to pleasure and now, as a Registered Dietitian for dancers, I’m determined to help you navigate your holiday free from stress, anxiety, and food guilt. This article will help you formulate solutions to the most common food- and body- struggles experienced on Thanksgiving Day.
Problem 1: You’re Insanely anxious about The Food
Overwhelming thoughts about the big meal could be a sign of deprivation. Deprivation can result from food insecurity, a problem that is unfortunately rampant in our nation. Deprivation can also be intentional, a common result of dieting, overexercising, and/or following strict food rules.
Turkey Day Solution:
Take a mental inventory: are you stressed about the amount of food that will be served? The types of food? Both? Do you feel a lack of self-trust in your ability to stop eating when feeling full? Are you worried about not knowing the ingredients in the dishes served?
Food Flexibility allows dancers to adapt to an ever-changing food environment. This is especially important on Turkey day! Remember: this meal equates to less than 0.005% of your year’s food intake! Regardless, this doesn’t mean that your holiday meal needs to be a “cheat” meal (heads up: when eating intuitively, there’s nothing to “cheat” on). To improve your food flexibility, check out these additional resources:
- Start here to improve your food flexibility.
- Then, begin breaking your food rules with these step-by-step tips.
Problem 2: You’re Dreading The Food- and Body- Comments
There’s no doubt that diet culture infiltrates most gatherings around food. But while food- and body- comments might come from well-meaning relatives, they can be very triggering to dancers.
Turkey Day Solution
If you’re up for it, set clear boundaries. Explain that you’re currently working on your relationship with food and listening to your body’s needs. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might not be the best time for you to be the all-star anti-diet advocate you’re working to become. Rather than debating the science behind why dieting doesn’t work, consider a more compassionate approach. Empower others by sharing your experience with healing from diet culture.
Family not budging? Simply change the topic of conversation or politely excuse yourself from the table. Here are three articles that dive into triggering commentary and how to navigate it.
- Overcome Food and Diet Talk Part 1
- Overcome Food and Diet Talk Part 2
- Navigate Triggering Body Comments
Problem 3: You’re planning to “Save Up” for the meal
A common misconception about eating on Turkey Day is to avoid food throughout the day (or days) leading up to the big meal as a means to “allow” yourself the indulgent foods offered. This, along with planning extra workouts to “burn the calories,” sets you up for compulsive eating at the meal.
Turkey Day Solution:
As long as it’s not restrictive, stick to your usual eating routine: small and frequent meals/snacks every 2-4 hours is what I recommend. As a result, you won’t enter dinner famished and ready to attack. Rather, you’ll feel a sense of comfortable hunger, which enables you to not only make mindful food choices but enables you to practice mindful eating. You’ll be able to skip options that don’t truly stand out and choose options that satisfy your palate (hello apple pie!). Check out these helpful articles to guide you through:
In regards to your dancing and workouts, most studios are closed on the holiday. Take that as a sign that you too can take the day off! Mindful movement, like yoga or pilates, can help clear your mind if needed. But don’t look to “burn the calories” you plan to eat later on.
Problem 4: You’re trying to “healthify” Grandma’s Recipes
When it comes to the food, are you looking to create lighter versions of past loves? Here’s the deal: you can eat the regular versions without it destroying your health and performance goals. Also, you don’t need to add extra veggies or swap ingredients with their “healthier” counterparts. Sure, you can totally create a nutrient-dense dish that you love and serve it alongside dinner. But realize that we deserve to enjoy BOTH those nutrient-dense options and those not-so-healthy options.
Turkey Day Solution:
Enjoy the real deal. It’s crucial to creating a satisfying experience for yourself. Ask yourself: which dishes are your absolute favorites? Which options bring nostalgic happiness to your plate? Maybe it’s your grandmother’s stuffing or your father’s homemade apple pie? Forgo items that don’t appeal to you. Enjoy those you love in a mindful, present manner. Consider the tastes, textures, and mouthfeel of the foods. You’d be surprised how this slows down your eating, allowing you to feel your fullness cues. Here’s an article that teaches you more about satisfaction and the important role it plays in your meals.
Problem 5: You’re Expectations are Unrealistic
There is no “perfect” way to eat… even when it comes to intuitive eating. When we simplify intuitive eating as “eating when hungry and stopping when full,” we turn it into another restrictive diet.
Turkey Day Solution
Get comfortable with a few holiday meal facts: you’re likely to eat foods that might not be “nutrient-dense” or “super healthy.” You’re likely to sit on your couch for most of the day. You’re even likely to eat past your fullness cues. Just remember that this is ALL normal and ALL okay. This one meal with never make or break your performance or health. Consider it an experience, even if that experience involves the discomfort of feeling too full. This sensation will pass.
And finally, remember that eating doesn’t have to be the only activity you do on Turkey Day. Instead of making food the main star of your meal, consider other aspects to enjoy: catching up with family, spending time with friends, and/or planning new holiday recipes. Bottom line: you deserve to enjoy your holiday! If you’re looking for additional tips, I discuss some more in this blog post!