Thanksgiving dinner. You know there will tons of food. In past years, maybe you’ve eaten too much. Maybe way too much. This year, you’ve resolved will be different. You are not going to overeat. But how do you do it?
In this post, I talked about having an abundance mindset so you don’t feel like you have to eat everything to not miss out. This week, I’m giving you another tool: planning ahead.
As humans, we have very complex brains. What separates us from other animals is our prefrontal cortex, the part of the human brain that evolved later. That part of our brain governs our intentional actions.
To change your habits, make friends with your prefrontal cortex, and use it to override the habitual, almost unconscious behavior directed by other parts of your brain.
What does this neuroscience have to do with Thanksgiving? When you make a plan ahead of time for how you will eat, and carry it out, you make conscious choices instead of relying on your habitual brain to take you down the same path it has always taken. It is very difficult to rely upon willpower to make decisions about what to eat on occasions like this, but planning ahead can make that unnecessary.
Think about the Thanksgiving meal ahead of time
For most of us, it is pretty predictable what will be on the Thanksgiving table. Think about what you really love and what you could do without. Think about how much food your body needs to be comfortable at the end of the meal and not overly stuffed.
Let’s say you love turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry sauce and apple pie. You decide you will eat that, and skip the stuffing and sweet potatoes. Forget the green bean casserole. You’re only eating the foods you love most, and if you eat Aunt Ida’s yucky jello salad (yep, some people really do still make that stuff!), you won’t have room for pie.
Next, close your eyes and picture your plate with the amount of food you guess your body needs to feel just right after you’ve eaten. Visualize yourself at the table, where other people have heaped their plates with too much food. Feel good about your decision to take less. Think about how much better you’ll feel after the meal because you didn’t overeat. Picture yourself eating small bites, slowly, and savoring every delicious mouthful. Yum!
Make a commitment to yourself
Now, make a commitment to yourself to follow this plan at Thanksgiving dinner. Promise yourself that you will do this because you love yourself and your body, and you deserve to feel great. You deserve to reach your weight goals. Your body has been such a work horse for you that you promise you won’t abuse it anymore with overeating.
The beauty of using visualization is that your brain doesn’t know the difference between when you actually do something and when you merely picture it. You can even speed up breaking a bad habit by picturing yourself doing things the new way. This works well with food and eating. I know because I’ve done it.
On Thanksgiving morning, review your plan. Sit in a calm place with your eyes closed and visualize yourself at dinner carrying it out. Take five minutes or more and imagine yourself calmly enjoying your dinner, stopping before you are full, and feeling great about it.
You can use this strategy at any time. Use it before parties, dinners out, or even every day. For example, you can decide ahead of time not to eat certain foods that make you feel less than your best. You can decide that if someone at work brings in a box of supermarket muffins, you aren’t going to eat them because you know they are loaded with refined flour, sugar and fat, and you’d rather treat yourself to something you enjoy more.
Planning ahead requires conscious effort, thought and intention. If you keep practicing this over time, you will ultimately change your brain and develop new, better eating habits. It really does become less and less effort over time.
If you want to stay on track through the holidays, join my free Facebook group, Ditch the Diet Tribe.