Worried about thanksgiving overeating? Giving thanks before meals helps weight control, health

As millions upon millions of Canadians look ahead to Thanksgiving with trepidations about overeating, I’d like to focus on one of the most fundamental staples of the Thanksgiving meal that will help prevent overeating not just on Turkey Day, but year round: the act of giving thanks. The part where family and friends join hands, or bow heads, and take some time to reflect on what they’re grateful for.

Often Thanksgiving is anticipated as a chance to overeat, for no other reason than it’s the tradition!  But is there really joy in that? Particularly when overeating so often leads to feelings of failure and regret? I believe not.  What I do believe though — what I know, rather, from my work as a brain and cognitive scientist specializing in the psychology of eating, and from helping thousands of people become happy, thin and free — is that the act of expressing gratitude goes a long way toward helping to curb overeating. 

And this lesson can be applied far beyond Thanksgiving, to meals in general year round.  When incorporated into the scaffolding of your life, giving thanks before EVERY meal has immeasurable health and weight control benefits, for the following reasons:

It reinforces the routine of eating meals on a regular schedule

Eating regular meals at consistent times is crucial in that it lengthens the body’s fasting window, which increases fat loss and strengthens the process by which cells recycle and repair. It also improves insulin sensitivity and lowers cholesterol.

It takes the burden off willpower

Willpower depletion is a very real phenomenon. In fact, research shows we may have as little as 15 minutes of willpower at our disposal before it runs dry. However, research also shows that something as simple as making a gratitude list can replenish its stores. Hence, practicing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the best ways to harness the brain’s ability to resist unwanted and unneeded extra food.

Turning thoughts toward gratitude eases temptations themselves

No matter where you are in the world, no matter what party or occasion, no matter what restaurant, you can always turn your mind toward gratitude. Doing so shifts the focus from what you want, or crave, to what you have. It also supports mindfulness, helping sharpen awareness of your actions and leading to better choices.

Of course, it helps, too, to express gratitude at other times as well.  That’s why I keep a gratitude journal, and advise the participants in the Bright Line Eating program to do the same.  A gratitude journal offers a perfect way to reflect, at the end of each day, on what went well that day, what you were especially grateful for that day, and why.  The exercise is simple but incredibly powerful, since it changes your focus.

There are so many things to be deeply thankful for in any given day.  Expressing this is a meaningful habit that will help you become a healthier, happier, slimmer you!


Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is a psychology professor, a brain and cognitive scientist, and an expert in the psychology of eating. She is President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neurology of sustainable weight loss and helping people achieve it.

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