Keep Your Body-Image Baggage Off the Thanksgiving Table, Please

Too much food plus side dishes of criticism, shame and guilt? Here's how to navigate your self esteem's most favorite time of the year

Ah, Thanksgiving. The time of year when Americans gather to get right back to our Puritanical roots with some good, old-fashioned, binge-and-shame spirals.

You know the deal: First people slave for hours preparing far more food than anyone has ever needed to eat, ever. While that's happening, everyone talks about how much food there's going to be, how the average American consumes 4,500 calories on this day alone, how Americans are fatter than ever and soon we'll all be dead. 

Then we eat the mountains of food, talking about how delicious it is, but also apologizing for every other bite, assessing whether or not our pants still fit, and eyeing the plates of our fellow diners to figure out who is eating more (fatty!), who is eating less (ungrateful!), who is preaching some new diet gospel this year that requires them to eat only the brussel sprouts (killjoy!).

And finally, we all lie around feeling fat and miserable.

Let's not do that this year! Let's make a pact right here, right now to have a truly grateful, guilt-free Thanksgiving. Let's actually enjoy the food people have worked so hard to make. And if anybody tries to send you into a shame spiral, here are my thoughts on how to come out with your body image intact. 

*If relatives comment on your weight (whether you've lost weight, gained some portion of the mythical Freshman 15, look pregnant, or stayed the same) remember that there's only one response when someone fat talks you: "I think I look great." 

*If anyone starts talking calorie counts, smile sweetly and say, "It's just one delicious day!" Because it is. Your body is not going to dramatically change size or shape overnight no matter how many slices of pumpkin pie you do or don't eat. 

*If someone comments on their own weight, or another person's weight, remember that Thanksgiving probably isn't the best time for an intervention-style conversation about these issues and anyway, there's only one response when somebody fat talks themselves: "I think you look great." 

*If anyone asks, "Do you need to eat that?" remember that you have permission to eat whatever you want. Just answer with a polite "yes" or "no" and then eat it. Either one proves your point and helps everyone move right along. 

*If someone starts preaching their new diet gospel, remember that they too have permission to eat (or not eat) whatever they want, but you don't have to live by their rules. And incorporating diet strategies into holiday eating can be disastrous, warn Judith Matz and Eileen Frankel, authors of The Diet Survivors Handbook on the body-image blog Weightless: "Focusing on food and your weight means you are less present at holiday gatherings [...and] depriving yourself of favorite holiday foods sets you up to binge at a later time." 

And finally: Say thank you. To whomever cooked, whomever cleans up, and all of your friends and family who gather with you to celebrate -- no matter what kind of body image baggage they bring. Research shows that cultivating gratitude offers you tons of health benefits, and inspires others to treat us more kindly in return. And it's the real point of the holiday. Once you finish that delicious pumpkin pie.  

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