Every year for most of my adult married life, I have hosted Thanksgiving. Last year, I was a few weeks into my weight loss journey when Thanksgiving arrived. Celebrating holidays when you’re eating differently than the rest of your family has its challenges, especially when you’re the host. But like religion and politics, I don’t believe in imposing my beliefs on my guests. At the same time, I’m not shy about my beliefs when it comes to food. If someone asks, I’m happy to speak my point of view.
There is a big difference between owning your beliefs or lifestyle and judging or imposing those beliefs or choices on others. In fact, the whole Thanksgiving tradition is based on bringing together a diverse group of people with very different lifestyles and finding common ground. I know a little bit more about this holiday than most because, Dear BadAsses, I am the great granddaughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, two passengers who came to the New World via the Mayflower. The Pilgrims were a religious community seeking a place where they could have the freedom to live and practice what they believed. They also happened to land in a place that was occupied with inhabitants who also wished to live peaceful lives. And here’s a fun fact: They landed in the wrong place. Originally, their destination was to be what is now the Isle of Manhattan (AKA New York City), but due to food and water running low, and frankly a lot of cagey passengers, they ended up in what is now known as Cape Cod harbor. Depending on which version of history you believe, the story that survives is the Pilgrims and the native inhabitants came together at the end of the harvest to celebrate abundance, finding common ground and giving thanks. Whether you host or attend a Thanksgiving feast, here are some tips for how to navigate your holiday.
If You’re Hosting
My menu is a mix of foods that are plan-friendly and those I choose not to have. In advance I plan what I will put on my plate. I’ve also changed up a few recipes to be healthier overall. This year’s menu will include Brined Turkey, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash, sweet potato puree, green bean casserole (from scratch with organic beans, mushrooms and my portion will be without the crispy onions). The bird will be stuffed as my guests like stuffing. My plan is to have the turkey, green beans, and mashed cauliflower. I’m debating about whether I will make the usual pies. I typically make pecan and pumpkin (obviously they’re not on my list, and I’m not tempted by these). By hosting, I know that I will have items at the table that work for me. I also accept the fact that not everyone is affected in the same way by sugar and flour, so I make the healthiest versions of those items, but will ultimately choose to abstain from them. I treat them like foods I’m allergic to.
With all of the prepping and cooking I do, I keep quite busy. We’ll have a dozen for dinner this year. I make sure I’m drinking a lot of sparkling water as I prepare the food and I frankly ADORE this holiday, so I fill up on having everyone at the house, my daughter home from college and lots of family gathered. If you’re hosting and concerned about whether the temptation will be too great, plan ahead. Consider having others bring dessert. Choose healthier versions of recipes and make sure there are enough options for you at the table.
If You’re A Guest At Someone Else’s Table
If you’ll be a guest at the table, consider calling your host ahead of time. It’s OK to share what you’re doing, and it’s OK to check in to see whether you can bring an option or two to their table that is plan-friendly. Odds are there will be turkey at most gatherings which is totally fine for you. And you can eye the portion and not bring your scale (a 4 oz portion is roughly the size of the palm of your hand). Perhaps you bring a vegetable dish like mashed cauliflower. Last year my bowl of mashed cauliflower was eaten by several of my guests, and was as popular as the mashed potatoes. Or you could make a fabulous vegetable crudite or a ginger carrot soup to share as an appetizer. The point of calling your host is not to request they make or do anything special for you, it’s to know ahead of time what your options will be and to offer to bring something you know will work for you that can be shared with the other guests.
How To Handle The Questions and Comments
Inevitably there will be questions if you’re not having all of the food offered. If it comes up, don’t be afraid to keep it simple and say you’re no longer eating flour and sugar. When they ask why (and in my experience they usually do), you can simply say you’ve discovered how much better you feel when you avoid them. You don’t need to share you’re on a weight loss journey (although I find people are genuinely interested) and you don’t need to spell out all the details or begin preaching about the evils of flour and sugar. I liken it, again, to conversation about religion and politics. Not everyone needs to feel the same way you do, so the point isn’t to convert. Respect their point of view and hold firm to yours. Here’s a list of comments you might get and my suggestion on how to respond:
“But it’s a holiday…”
Response: It is, and I’m really enjoying it!
“That sounds too restrictive”
Response: I thought so too until I began feeling so much better by eating more whole foods. It’s really working for me.
“So you’ll never get to eat bread or pasta or dessert again?”
Response: For right now, I’m keeping it off my list because I’m feeling so much better without it.
“Just try a little of this. I made it myself! You gotta live a little!”
Response: Thank you for offering. I’m sure it’s delicious. I’m actually feeling better than I have in a long time, so for now, I’m going to stick with my plan.
At the heart of it, some people may feel uncomfortable about you doing “something different”. But that’s OK. And for some, it might bring up issues for them because they might have a weight issue, or have big opinions on the subject. You know the ones. They may feel challenged by what you’re doing, or it may shine the light on things they really don’t want to deal with. You simply need to stay firm in your resolution to do it differently. If you stay in “this is really working for me and I feel great.,” there’s not much they can say about that, right? Keep it about you and steer clear of giving a sermon. You don’t need to prove or brag you’ve discovered the holy grail. Each and every one of us is on our own journey. You simply stick with owning yours. And if someone’s not letting it go, simply change the subject (“Let’s talk about something else, enough about me and my dietary preferences…”) and eventually they’ll get the big fat hint.
Don’t be afraid to change up your Thanksgiving routine. Take a nice walk before or after dinner. Offer to help with the dishes, or be of service in other ways. The best defense is to have a plan in advance, to be clear on that plan, and to stick with it. Ultimately these are choices you’ve been making each and every day, and this is really just one more day.
Finally, take some time on this day to make a list of gratitude. Acknowledge your journey. Hug the crazy relative. Be the gracious gorgeous guest. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!