Stuff the Turkey—Not Yourself!

30 Oct

This blog went out recently in my newsletter, but I wanted to get it out to those of you who are not on that mailing list. (You can email me if you’d like to receive the newsletter each month — you’ll receive articles related to food/nutrition, mental edge and health tips and strategies, and recipes for healthy living.)

The recent events on the Eastern sea board I hope have given each of us a reason to pause and acknowledge how much we have, how fleeting the moments of wonder in our lives can be, and to be more present for those who may need our help in the wake of the disaster. You can apply the tools in this blog to just about every situation you might encounter in life that feels difficult– not just Turkey Day.

New research presented in San Antonio, TX at the September 24 Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting indicates that our feelings of fullness are somewhat governed by how much we perceive we have eaten. Wait, what? Seriously? There is psychology involved in our eating behavior? HOLD THE BOAT!

Research findings like this make me laugh. Perhaps it’s because of the nature of my every day work—psychology and nutrition consulting—that I easily go straight to “Um, that seems like a no-brainer!” But when I consider the general population’s goals and overall tendencies; the terrible state our nation is in; and how the holidays are quickly approaching and represent one of the riskiest periods for dieters and those who are working on losing weight and getting more fit, I take a step back and value the work going into parceling out the intricacies of eating.

Studies have shown that the amount we eat is guided by multiple factors—we’re humans with a prefrontal cortex and emotions that have made eating behavior about much more than fueling our bodies. If we’re talking about one meal in particular, portion size and plate size influences how much we consume. A small plate with no real estate showing appears to us as a lot more food than the same amount of food put on a large plate with the edges of each food item cleanly separated.  In a similar experiment, individuals drinking from a tall, thin glass thought they consumed more than those drinking from a short, fat glass. What does this data tell us? Well, a number of things, but importantly, that we’re pretty poor judges of our own consumption. Secondly, and perhaps even more compelling is the evidence demonstrating how our expected satiety, how full we think we will feel following a meal, influences how much we decide to eat. Similar results have been found just based on how a food item is labeled. Most people will think twice if something is “high calorie”, but they will eat more if it is “low calorie.”

Consider another experiment that had two groups of participants drink fruit smoothies made exactly the same way, and containing the same calorie counts. One group was told that their smoothies contained a lot of fruit, and the other group was told that theirs had just a little. Can you guess which group reported feeling fuller for a longer period of time?

With the holidays on our heels, I have clients already discussing their desire to plan ahead for how they will approach the parties, the baked goods brought into the office, the incessant flow of goodies given as gifts, and even the grocery store aisles laden with decadent desserts. Top this off with their concern regarding the pressure they may feel from others to partake in more food than they may want to.  We all know how tough it can be to “go against the grain”, and when everyone else is stuffing their faces with sweet potato pie, mounds of gravy- laden dressing and mashed taters, and piles of turkey, sometimes it just feels easier to “go with the flow” than to resist being poked and prodded and told “Oh, c’mon, have some more!” Yes, the gluttonous person next to you is right, “Thanksgiving only comes once a year”, but how badly do you want to spend the next year working off your holiday weight gain?

Most people don’t engage in this amount of consciousness-raising. We just eat when it’s time. We eat what’s familiar. And we eat when everyone else eats whether we like it or are hungry for it or not. We are creatures of habit, but we are also creatures of connection. We want to be accepted and if we expect that we’ll be looked upon unfavorably or teased for being more discerning about our food choices, we’ll avoid doing so. Essentially, we are on automatic pilot around food.  But we can reprogram ourselves to respond more intentionally, and it’s the only way, save for wiring your mouth shut, to avoid becoming a holiday heavyweight.

Ready? Follow these guidelines for mitigating mindless munching. Holiday meals do not need to end up with you lying on the couch in a carb coma thinking yet again, “Why did I do this to myself?”

(I get sarcastic with myself, and yes, I talk to myself…out loud sometimes. Keep in mind there is a specific reason I use each of these thoughts).

1.  Really? You’re THAT hungry that you would actually compare yourself to a starving child in Africa? (Brings me back to reality and out of emotional reasoning).

2. You do realize that you just ate, right? You consumed ___ protein; ___carbs; and ____ fat. I think you’ll be okay. (This is an objective, just-the-facts assessment of the situation; we can easily get carried away by our emotions and make poor decisions as a result. Think about the years past when you’ve just eaten a plate stacked high with food and then decided to dive in for a second round when you already felt full).

3. You can always eat again later. (Another objective statement; no emotion attached. Most holiday meals end up in leftovers for a week or two).

4. You could have pumpkin pie anytime. Why is it imperative that you have it—or 3 slices of it– RIGHT NOW? (Changes my perception of the situation; when I’m craving something or feel a sense of urgency to eat it, reminding myself that it’s always available takes away the thought that “if I don’t eat it now, I’ll NEVER be able to eat it,” which just isn’t true).

5. They’ve got their goals and you’ve got yours. You’re seriously going to justify eating that because everyone else is? (We are easily swayed by the actions of others. We want to fit in, we sometimes don’t want to explain ourselves, and let’s face it, when everyone else is doing the same thing, it can be more difficult to stay true to our convictions).

6. It’s not that you can’t have it, Kori. You could have it any time you want. You choose not to. (When we feel limited and caged and like we do not have a say, we want to break out of our box and prove that we have control. Think of the last diet you were on that mandated you eat a certain time, in a certain way, with a certain recipe. How long did it last? Structure is good– we thrive with it. But make it too rigid –”you can never eat that food again”– and you’ll likely want to bend the rules. Get back to reality and recognize that you can have any food you want; yes, you really can. But you are choosing not to have certain foods because you feel better without them, mentally and physically. Don’t eat every holiday food just ‘because it’s there’. Would you eat it anyway? If not, leave it well enough alone.)

7. You’ve been down this road before. Is it worth it? NOPE. (If your immediate, impulsive, no-pause answer moves you in the direction you desire, great. Impulsivity is a problem for most people here– I want it, so I eat it. Instead, develop some rules or standards for yourself. Rules are appropriate in some situations. For example, “I don’t walk into the break room” or “Cheetos give me a stomach ache. I don’t like them.”

8. You know the negative consequences far outweigh the short-term pleasure. Walk away. (Here I’m thinking of similar situations I’ve been in and where they have led when I make a certain decision. I love pita chips, but I don’t even go down the pita chip aisle. Why test myself? It’s like a recovering alcoholic going into a bar, sitting down, ordering a drink and willing himself not to take a sip. Why risk it?)

9. Is what you are thinking of doing in line with what you’ve said you want to accomplish? (We’ve all been there. We say we want one thing but then we act in a way that is incongruent with those wishes/hopes/desires/goals. Pause for a second and ask yourself if you want to be the broken record. Aren’t you tired of asking, “How come I self-sabotage?” I will answer that for you– because you don’t stop and RESPOND. You are impulsive and act without thinking.)

10. Are you even hungry, Kori? Genuinely, physically hungry?  (If I have to ask myself this question, there is a high probability that I’m not. And in that case, I am not going to tarnish my winning streak of positive decisions!)

Finally, follow these practical tips for keeping a food fest at bay:

  • The likelihood is higher that you will eat more if all the food is spread out in front of you. If you’re preparing the holiday meal, how about asking everyone to get what they like and then sit down at the table.
  • Put your fork down between each bite and take a drink of water. This will help you to slow down and for you to more easily register satiety.
  • When you’re chewing (rather than swallowing whole) your food (while your fork is out of your hands) focus on your senses. Tune into the smell, taste, texture, and sound of your food. Mashed potatoes make a “plop” sound on your plate and a “slosh” sound in your mouth. Crusty bread “crackles.”

The big takeaway here—if you are going to eat, just eat.

Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. But when we discover that we know what we’re unaware of, we can start to take notice and begin changing our behaviors accordingly. I’d use the next month to start practicing the skills involved with operating in a more emotionally intelligent manner so that when the holidays roll around, you more skillfully stuff the turkey rather than yourself.

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5 Responses to “Stuff the Turkey—Not Yourself!”

  1. kerriann clark October 30, 2012 at 10:24 PM #

    That was an awesome blog Kori!!!!!!!!!! I will definitely start applying these tools to my daily eating. Happy Halloween Safe but no electric on Long Island

    • kpropst October 31, 2012 at 11:04 AM #

      Hi Kerriann! I’m thankful to hear you’re safe and sound. Thank you for your comments too! Sometimes we just need to pause and breathe and we can make much better decisions!

  2. stinaswell November 5, 2012 at 6:04 AM #

    Fantastic blog! I will be sharing this with friends that have recently become aware of their emotional eating. Thanks!!!

    • kpropst November 5, 2012 at 7:24 PM #

      Glad you liked it! Thank you! Tell your friends to play it forward. Whatever feeling they are feeling will dissipate, if they stop trying to push it away with food. If they do eat to avoid it, the feeling will always be right there waiting again.

  3. Karen November 21, 2012 at 3:56 PM #

    Great way of putting it! You are the best! Happy Happy Thanksgiving to you!

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