The average Thanksgiving meal equals 3,000 grams of fat and the average person takes in a daily total caloric intake of 4,500 calories.
You can search anything on the internet these days so I Googled “How to Avoid Overeating on Thanksgiving”. There were lots of articles, comments, stories and tips including the following;
1. Eat throughout the day prior to the main meal.
2. Exercise before the main meal.
3. Drink two or three glasses of water before the main meal.
4. Stick to single portions and leave food on your plate.
5. Don’t have seconds.
All of these suggestions seemed very reasonable. Except for one thing. They won’t work! Being reasonable is the lowest level of human consciousness!
The above 5 suggestions are not likely to have an impact on your emotional mind. I like to emphasize three areas of the brain. Here is an analogy.
Make a fist with both hands and put your knuckles together so the heels of your hands are touching. Roll your hands so you are looking at the top of your knuckles. This represents the outer cortex of the brain. This is the area that is responsible for rational thought, executive decision making and analytical thinking.
Open your hands and the fingers represent the deep area of the brain called the limbic system. This is the oldest area of the brain that is often referred to as the reptilian brain. It is the brain of our ancestors. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, fear, avoidance, disgust and arousal.
The wrists represent the brain stem, the autonomic nervous system, breathing and heart rate.
The above suggestions about overeating only appeal to the outer cortex, the thinking area of the brain. This also refers to the left brain, or the conscious analytical mind. The conscious brain agrees that it is a good idea to limit caloric intake.
Remember the fingers in the brain analogy, the limbic system? The limbic system is genetically coded for feast or famine. The limbic system begins a hormonal cascade that signals the area of the brain called the appestat to delay its signals to the fat cells to release the hormone leptin. When leptin is in the blood stream you feel satisfied and stop eating. However, this primitive food scarcity mechanism of delay enables you to binge so you can survive the famine and it still operates as if your life was in danger. You can not be logical or reasonable around your eating at Thanksgiving. You have to do battle on the appropriate battle ground. You’ve got to address the emotional limbic area of the brain.
Here is how you can win this game called overeating at Thanksgiving.
1. Get MAD!
2. Declare the commitment. (Cortex)
3. Add accountability through the use of a behavioral contract. (Cortical limbic loop)
Let’s take these one at a time. First, get MAD. Make A Decision! You’ve got to understand your “why”. Why bother eating sensibly at one of maybe two times a year where you can allow yourself to overeat.
You might decide that you can overeat on Thanksgiving and Christmas and then leave it at that. This would be a fine decision. Have as much as you want. You can get back on track next week. If this is your approach then you do not need to read this article. You are fine, no judgment, enjoy.
However, you might also think that Thanksgiving is not an excuse to get off of your plan and disrupt your healthy eating habits. If your decision is to stay within your plan then read on.
By the way, I congratulate you for either decision. It is a very weak position to be indecisive.
Step one: Make a decision.
Step two: Declare the commitment.
Specifically declare what you are committed to. Are you only going to have one plate, no seconds, whatever your decision is declare it specifically. Someone else needs to know exactly what you are committing to.
Next you will need to appeal to the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system. The limbic system is like a radar sensing environment. It is constantly monitoring the inputs coming in from the outer cortex and all of the senses for any threats to survival.
You have a lifetime of what are called cortical limbic loops where just the thinking of taking an action is linked by the hypothalamus to previous threatening and dangerous experiences of pain. This constant dance occurs on a subconscious level and is constantly showing up in your life as avoidance. Unfortunately there is also another step of rationalization where you justify the avoidance and never realize that you are doing so.
The brain is genetically coded to find and respond to the highest level of perceived pain, always, just like your life depended on it. That is because at one time during human evolution the ability to recognize pain and avoid it was necessary for survival.
After you have declared your commitment now you must engage the limbic system to compel you to abide by your commitment. The commitment is in the cortex now you must engage fear to drive you to avoid, but to avoid over eating. You do this in step three.
1. Get MAD!
2. Declare the commitment.
3. Add accountability through the use of a behavioral contract.
You must engage the avoidance power of the brain by having a high pain as a consequence for non performance. There must be a penalty if you don’t do what you said you would do. This penalty must be perceived as a higher pain than the pain of not allowing yourself to overeat. Your brain is designed to compel you to avoid the highest level of perceived pain. If you told another person that if you had seconds on Thanksgiving then you would pay them $100 I’ll bet that you would have only one serving on Thanksgiving!
This is a behavioral contract. Here are the dynamics;
Specific Declaration + Accountability = Elite Performance
Accountability has two parts. The first part is the check in. Someone outside of yourself checks in with you. Did you do what you said you would do?
The second part is the big one. There must be an enforceable consequence for non performance. This consequence must be the highest level of perceived pain. If it is then human nature will compel you to avoid overeating. It really is that simple.
Try it out and see what happens. Can’t find someone to hold you accountable? Use me. I’m only an email away, and $100 if you don’t do what you say you will do. (email@example.com) I’ll bet you won’t find this recommendation anywhere else on the internet!