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Another early Thanksgiving dinner comes to an end as the table is reset for dessert: Grandma’s special pumpkin pie recipe. Grandma is a sensitive woman who thrives on compliments about her traditional baked goods. After all, food is her way of expressing love.
Your mother doesn’t want the drama of Grandma’s hurt feelings: She sticks a sharp elbow in your ribs and tells you through clenched teeth to just take the pie, whether you want it or not.
Year after year, you leave Thanksgiving dinner feeling sick from the large slice of pie and Grandma’s homemade ice cream after your stomach had been full for a while. Year after year, your stomach feels like an overinflated balloon from all the obligation eating: mom’s special turkey, your sister’s pumpkin roll, and Grandpop’s hot cross buns. Still, you force down a slice of pie to avoid hurting Grandma’s feelings. Yet again, our bodies suffer the consequences of food guilt even weeks after a holiday meal has ended due to residual bloating, sluggishness, and weight gain.

This pressure to overindulge at holiday dinners causes feelings of guilt and creates a social stigma against those who make healthy decisions. We give in to the social pressure of eating unhealthy food to avoid offending a sensitive friend or family member. However, we do so at the expense of our health and physical comfort. On Thanksgiving and other food-heavy holidays, how can you avoid social pressure and weight gain without destroying your loved ones’ self esteem in the process? 

Social Pressure and Weight Gain

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Social pressure is most powerful around holidays like Thanksgiving because these social gatherings are dependent on the link between food and love. In fact, the average American will gain about 8 pounds throughout the 2023 holiday season, compared to 5.5 pounds in 2022. [1] 78% of respondents in a survey about holiday weight gain admitted to gaining a few extra pounds during the 2022 holiday season: 38% are still struggling today with those extra pounds from last year.

How much of this weight gain is caused by end-of-the-year overindulgence, and how much of it is caused by social pressure?

What is Social Pressure?

The American Psychological Association defines social pressure as influencing a person or group through the means of rational argument and persuasion, calls for conformity, and even demands, threats, or promises of social approval. [2] Humans are social creatures: We tend to eat larger portions when in a group setting such as Thanksgiving dinners and other holiday gatherings at work or with family.

People Pleasers Give in to Social Food Pressure More Than Others

People pleasers” not only eat more in groups like everyone else but indulge more to please others. [3] People pleasers give in to the food guilt more than others. They want to protect their loved ones’ feelings while avoiding the social guilt and shame inflicted on those who set food boundaries for their health. However, they often regret those decisions later when they try shedding the pounds they gained from not wanting to upset anyone around the holidays.

All the youngest children in the family – like myself – are nodding our collective heads in shame right now: Youngest children know the struggle of holiday meals spent making everyone happy and keeping the peace, while accepting whatever scraps of positive attention you can get. We let our siblings dress us up in ridiculous outfits and perform humiliating songs for holiday gatherings because it made everyone smile (even though they’re smiling because they’re laughing at you). Family rejection and isolation is the youngest child’s nightmare.

On Thanksgiving especially, it can feel impossible to prioritize your health.

If food equals love at these holiday gatherings, of course a people pleaser wouldn’t want to reject someone’s offering of love. When love is wrapped up in the food that is prepared, it almost seems wrong to choose well-fitting pants over the emotional discomfort of social pressure. Therefore, people pleasers will sample every dish contributed to the Thanksgiving table just to make everyone feel valued. They don’t set or enforce food boundaries – at their own detriment – because they can’t stand to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s a fragile balancing act between your own health and your family’s happiness, but there are ways to delicately and respectfully set these boundaries without shedding tears or putting on pounds. 

You don’t have to sacrifice your physical comfort and health to protect others. In fact, you can do both without causing any Thanksgiving meltdowns, and The Wellness Way is here to help!

How to Handle This Social Hot Potato Without Sacrificing Pounds

1. Focus on the fun: Not the food!
Family Running Through Park Together

Don’t let the holidays be about food and nostalgia: Build memories instead. Find fun activities the family can participate in together on Thanksgiving Day, whether it’s a hike in the woods, a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood, or playing some friendly football in the backyard. Invite Grandma to come along too: She can be the referee or scorekeeper, and you can compliment her wise calls and flawless arithmetic. For some solitary fitness, prioritize an exercise that you enjoy on your own – and wake up early to fit that exercise time into your busy schedule. Do what you have to do to begin your Thanksgiving with healthy choices.

2. By Helping Others, You Help Yourself:

Don’t lose sight of Thanksgiving’s original purpose. It has nothing to do with any of that pilgrim nonsense you learned in elementary school, so stow your horn-a-plenty for your front porch décor next fall. When George Washington declared the first Thanksgiving holiday in 1789, he wanted one day devoted to public gratitude and service. [4] George Washington would be ashamed at the modern-day observance of this holiday: The practice of stating one thing you’re grateful for at the Thanksgiving dinner table and then trampling underpaid retail workers at the mall to score deals less than 24 hours later. That’s not Thanksgiving: Stating one thing in life that you’re grateful for isn’t worth the added pounds to celebrate the holiday. Running people over with a cart as if you’re scoring points in a video game isn’t worth the 9.999% discount either.

Actions of gratitude are more powerful and more beneficial to physical and emotional health. Encourage your family to help others on a day of overindulgence and you will feel the physical and emotional benefits as well: Several studies have proven that helping others reduces stress, increases positive feelings, and improves physical health. [5] Support your community while encouraging your family to be active in a 5k charity race. In fact, Thanksgiving morning is the biggest day for road races in the U.S.! [6]

3. Be Humbly Assertive:

You can set food boundaries without being rude or disrespectful. If Grandma is clearly offended because you’re not eating pie, take an appreciative approach rather than a defensive one. Tell her you appreciate her, and you know how much she loves cooking for the family. Remind her gently that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy this pie in the way she deserves because your stomach is already uncomfortably full. Suggest a day and time when you two can cook something together: Something delicious and new to both of you that is sneakily nutritious at the same time, like these chewy, gluten-free, sugar-free cranberry pistachio cookies. Offer to make that recipe together for the next holiday meal!

4. Practice Mindful Eating:

This might seem impossible during holiday meals because distractions are unavoidable. However, you can choose to expose yourself to the right distractions at that Thanksgiving meal to escape social pressure while savoring your food slowly and mindfully. Aim to sit near the people who are most supportive and socially engaging: Fun conversation is a positive distraction for mindful eating because you are making those crucial social connections for emotional health. [7] Positive conversations will force you to take smaller bites as a courtesy to the other person while they’re speaking. You’ll likely take smaller bites to avoid spewing a mouthful of mashed potatoes in the person’s face when you speak to them – this is beneficial for you and certainly for the other person in the conversation, who probably doesn’t want mashed potatoes splattered on their face.

Be considerate of the people around you by making them feel important. Slow, deliberate bites make the meal last longer, which helps your digestion and ensures your brain knows when the stomach is full. Don’t bring your phone or tablet to the dinner table. Just don’t. That’s rude at Thanksgiving dinner and every other dinner table throughout the year. Put your watch on the Do Not Disturb setting and encourage your children to do the same. Set an example for your children about cell phones during meals: If you follow your own rule, they will be more willing to follow it as well.
This practice is also beneficial to your own safety: Grandma will be primed to fight you if she notices how often you glance at your phone during Thanksgiving dinner. If you refuse her dessert after being rude at the dinner table, I don’t want to imagine the guilt trip in store for you. Grandma will respect your boundaries if you show respect for her time at the dinner table. Show respect and you will earn the right to demand respect, even when setting those necessary food boundaries. 

5. Choosing Health is NOT Rude!

People make assumptions about someone setting food boundaries: They assume that person is rude or standoffish because they aren’t indulging the same way everyone else is. [3] You can’t control what they think, but you can control how sociable and warm you are. You can still be a social butterfly spreading joy to everyone without compromising your health. It’s not rude to put your health first. You don’t have to eat the special pumpkin pie just because Grandma baked it: Show Grandma you love her in another way that would be more meaningful – and memorable – to you and for her.

6. Offer to Bring a Healthy Dish of Your Own

Be a helpful guest by offering to take care of some of the meal preparations. Offer to bring a healthy appetizer or side dish that everyone would enjoy and will help spare you a few extra pounds because of food guilt. Who cares if it’s not traditional Thanksgiving food? Change it up! Until 1827, pumpkin pie wasn’t a traditional Thanksgiving food until Sarah Josephina Hale described her version of the ideal New England Thanksgiving dinner in her novel: She referred to the addition of pumpkin pie as “…an indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving.” [8]

Create your own ideal Thanksgiving dinner by bringing a healthy dish that starts a new tradition!

7. Remember Your Wellness Way 3Ts: Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts

Family gatherings in general can trigger traumas and negative memories, especially around the holidays. These emotional triggers can disrupt the healthy function of the entire body, potentially leading to weight gain around this time of the year regardless of the food you eat. For some people, holidays create the social pressure to fight traffic to see family members that are not very nice to you and haven’t seen in almost a year. For others, simply the absence of parents, siblings, or your children around the Thanksgiving dinner table can carve an emotional void left by those who passed away, or family members who prefer to spend Thanksgiving with someone else.

Be mindful of your traumas and thoughts. Take some time for self-care and reflection to prepare for the possibility of these triggers beforehand. If necessary, know when you should take a break for your mental health if the situation becomes toxic.

When we were kids, our parents warned us about the dangers of peer pressure.

We were told to be independent: To never give in to peer pressure when offered alcohol, illegal drugs, or when your friends were participating in dangerous/idiotic behavior.
However, adults were giving in to the social pressure to overindulge at every holiday dinner and special event throughout the year and forcing their children to do the same. We have the chance to choose differently and still enjoy our Thanksgiving with gratitude and service, as George Washington originally intended. We can choose to not give in to the same social pressures of overindulgence for our own health and the health of our children.
You can avoid the inevitable weight gain on Thanksgiving while also showing love and respect for your family.

You can delicately navigate these waters without sacrificing a healthy weight. More importantly, you can set those food boundaries without causing a Thanksgiving knife fight at the table while Grandma sobs into her dinner napkin.

A healthy Thanksgiving is your choice, and those who care about you will respect and support your healthy decisions.

You never know: Your healthy choices might even influence others to do the same!

Want to Learn More About Avoiding Weight Gain During the Holidays?

Check Out These Videos and Webinars:

Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss – The Wellness Way
Weight Loss – Harnessing the Swiss Watch Lifestyle
Hungry Hungry Human: The Secrets of Leptin Hormone & Cold Thermogenesis

Expand Your Knowledge of Metabolism, Hormones, and Health With These Articles:

SIBO and Weight Gain: Are You “Just Getting Older” or is SIBO to Blame?
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Gymnema: Stop Sugar Cravings and Achieve a Healthy Weight

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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