Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cage match: my weak mind vs. Thanksgiving

Where am I???  Oh yeah, I'm in London now.  I was in China last week, and I got into London late Friday night.  After five consecutive nights of 4 hours of sleep (Asian jet lag always gives me a beating), I slept for 9 hours last night.  Feeling very much the new man right now, I'm looking forward to spending the day bombing around this awesome city after I get my workout in.  Then I'm off to a three day wall-to-wall meeting blitz, flying back to New York late Wednesday night.  This in turn rolls me right into...  Thanksgiving!

How do I think about Thanksgiving?

Politically correct answer:  Thanksgiving is a time for spending excellent quality time with family and friends.  It's a time for slowing down, reconnecting and being thankful for the fact that the Pilgrims were able to avoid the temptation of slaughtering the local denizens of Massachusetts for a nice moment of detente.  Really, the food is a there to to be a symbol of celebrating everything I'm thankful for.

Factual answer:  The part about spending time with family and friends is actually true.  I will have been out of the country for close to two weeks, and I miss my family terribly.  That said, I'm also thinking a lot about eating food.  My mind is on a continuous loop of clicking through each rich dish on the menu.  I'm thinking about wine, and I'm thinking about creating a giant depression in the couch while watching a feeble football game.  The Lions?  Really, why does this have to be a tradition?  [Actually, I'm liking the additional night game, and getting both a Jets and a Saints game is pretty great.]

There is nothing particularly wrong at all with enjoying a big food day on Thanksgiving.  I've been pretty good this past week on the road, which is always challenging for me.  One benefit of not sleeping is that it's given me time for some ridiculously involved workouts.  Other than a sleep-deprivation induced room service food bonanza last night, I've also been pretty disciplined/good on my food choices.  Therefore, I'm not really worried about Thanksgiving day.

However, spending lots of time thinking about what's on the menu for Thanksgiving day has led me to a very sad conclusion:  my brain is broken.  It seems to be stuck on a an endless do-loop (raising my geek flag here) of visualizing and obsessing about things I am going to eat.  It's an extreme example of something I do all the time:  I obsess about my next meal.

I have a sneaking suspicion I'm not alone on this.  I sometimes wonder if we humans are wired to constantly think about the next thing we are going to eat.  I just finished breakfast 10 minutes ago, and I'm already thinking about what I'm going to have for lunch.  Frankly, I already know what I'm having for dinner, but I'm thinking about that too.  Why do I do this?  Is it because I am channeling  a past life as a cold, emaciated hunter wondering where to find that damned mastodon herd?

It makes it a lot harder for me to think about eating in a normal and restrained way when I'm constantly thinking about eating.  I have a feeling that naturally thin people don't really think about food that much. I resent them all!

My brain is an overwrought and undisciplined place.  I would do anything to be much more in control of what I think about.  This is certainly true about food.  I believe it is what makes living the healthy life such a challenging journey.  It is why I get so frustrated when I hear people criticize others for not living up to the challenges of losing weight and then keeping it off.  It's difficult because our brains are unruly.

So what to do?  Increasingly, I find myself constantly reminding my brain how much happier it is when I make good choices.  I remind myself how irritated my brain gets when I over-indulge and binge.  I am starting to believe that my brain is capable of being gradually re-shaped over a period of time to reduce my obsession with food and therefore the reduce the likelihood of spectacular lapses in judgement.

The best tool I know of for this is planning.  So therefore, here are my two options for Thanksgiving:

The less good option:

  • Before dinner is even served, there will be a huge layout of appetizers in the form of dips and cheeses.  I will transform myself into a factory robot with my mechanical arm constantly lowing and raising from the spread until I'm pretty full.  
  • Then I will ignore the fact that I'm full and start heaping as much Thanksgiving dinner on my plate as I can possibly fit.  Are you a vegetable?  I'm sorry, there's no room for you on this paltry 12" plate.  Only starches are allowed for this trip.  
  • Dessert?  You bet.  With three different pies available, it would just be rude not to have some of each.  
  • From here I go home feeling totally bloated with a hideous case of heart burn.  
The better option:  
  • Avoid the appetizer tray.  The Pilgrims didn't nosh on dip, so I'm not offending history if I don't either.  That said, there will be a shrimp cocktail tray, and I will definitely hit that.  
  • For the actual Thanksgiving dinner, I will have a bit of everything, including the vegetables.  They create a nice volume barrier on the plate so I don't have that fifth scoop of stuffing.  
  • Dessert?  You bet.  One normal slice of the blue ribbon winner of the pie contest should suffice.  
  • From here I go home feeling happy and well fed, but not like a goose headed for the fois gras factory.  
And my brain?  I suppose my best option is to re-channel its obsessive tendencies toward hashing over my "better option" plan.  They call that mental rehearsing.  I hear it works.  

What are you doing to fix your respective brains for the holidays?




  1. This is my first visit to the blog - impressive. I can relate to being somewhat obsessed about what I will eat next, especially the past 8 weeks that I have been tracking points online with Plan Manager. The online tools are fantastic - I'm averaging 1.8 pounds/week.
    My focus this holiday season will be to enjoy small portions of absolute favorite indulgences -not depriving, but not tasting one of everything.

  2. I am making my own stuffing, the Apple Celery Stuffing from the WW Celebrations cookbook. Usually I think about doing something like this but get "too busy" and never follow through. This year I am doing it because (1) I'm worth the effort, (2) just this one thing will help me stay focused on Thanksgiving - it is sort of symbolic and (3) the recipe sounds delicious. I can even make it the day before. I think I've got at least 4 Tools for Living going on here!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I'm glad I don't like stuffing or many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods.

    To fix my brain, all I can do is watch how much I eat of the foods I do like. Mashed potatoes for instance. We are being taken out to a restaurant for our Thanksgiving meal, so the portions as well as the meal itself will be decided for me. So I can't go back for seconds or hang out by the appetizer trays. There will be none. Maybe that's a good thing.

  4. Is this blog on an RSS feed? Or how do I get this blog to read thru my email? Thank you!

  5. I love this post! Thank you!!

    In the DC area, there are Trot for Hunger 5k runs the morning of Thanksgiving and I love forcing myself to get a run in - it actually makes me go through the rest of the day thinking about how I got up early and what I actually want to be putting in my mouth the rest of the day, and steers me away from overeating!

  6. So glad to know that the CEO of Weight Watchers has the same obsession with his next meal as I do with mine! I'm in charge of Thanksgiving dinner, and since my husband is happy as long as there is turkey, dressing, and gravy, I'm keeping it simple by adding some vegetables to that mix. I think I will have veggie tray for an appetizer and then bake everyone a sweet potato instead of making a casserole. Two small, probably store-bought desserts, and the holiday is over!

    Happy Thanksgiving! I can't wait for the start of the new program!

  7. Come on, David! We Detroiters have so little to be thankful about when it comes to the Lions (and a lot of other things, these days), at LEAST let us keep the tradition of watching our home team on Thanksgiving - even if the tradition IS watching them lose.

  8. good read, wish I could be part of the New WW plan but with husband not working I cant afford it

  9. Thank you for the great tips about making wise food choices on Thanksgiving. It really does come down to a mental decision.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. For me, it's not the Thanksgiving dinner itself that is the temptation. We traveled to Louisiana to be with family and it's all the great Louisiana food and restaurants that we can't get where we live, such as oyster po boys, beignets, crawfish, great restaurants abound. Our actual Thanksgiving is about like everyone else's: turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, etc., and that's no big deal. I'm not even really tempted by the pie, so it's not the actualy dinner, it's the days around the dinner that I have to watch. Is this anyone else's experience?

  11. I will also be up early running in a 5k here in Puyallup .So all will be good.We also don't like alot of the tradtional foods ,just meat and veggies for us.

  12. After 14 months of SLOW UP & DOWN progress on the program, I find that my brain is changing. My husband and I had a trip to New Orleans this past weekend to entertain clients, which usually is a total food and drink orgy. Why not? It's on the company? We had dinner at Commander's Palace and I found myself not WANTING to over indulge. I had 1 cocktail & 1 glass of wine, 1/2 of my appetizer, 1/2 of my entree and yes, I did indulge in bread pudding. My point is, in the past, I would have stuffed myself with everything and more. This time, I just didn't WANT to. That is something I can't believe. Hoping to keep it up through the Thanksgiving weekend!

  13. Love this post!! First time viewer and now a follower. I tell my members that people pass up second helpings all the time and live to talk about it. Our obsession makes us feel like somehow we'll be missing something if we don't pile it on like it's our last meal. But after we make the right choice and realize that we didn't die and the world didn't end, we live to fight another day. Good luck to you. At this tick of the clock, I may follow my own advice, who knows what will happen tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!!

  14. I'll be cooking myself. I have become a master of tricking tastebuds and producing concoctions that blow my friends and family away when I tell them the low caloric and fat counts.

    I would not have the same "I can go ahead and have seconds" assurance if I had Thanksgiving anywhere else. And... my family wouldn't let me not cook anyway. Which is the ultimate form of flattery and success.

  15. This is the first time I have read this blog, and I felt amazed at how much I could connect with your food and meal obsessions. I honestly thought I was alone in that. I felt so happy to know that I'm not the only one and there's not something seriously wrong with my brain. I also wonder if thin people think about food as much as the overweight. Can't I just borrow their brains? But what I most appreciated is the constructive advice given here. Knowledge on how to fight my brain's food alarms is what I need most this time of year, as the holidays are what broke my last diet.
    I plan to visit this blog more often, thank you.

  16. I love this article! Thank you so much for writing it and sharing!! I wasn't even aware of this blog until today but I'll definitely be stopping by on a regular basis now :)

    My mom and I had to come up with a pretty stellar defense for Thanksgiving this year since we weigh in on FRIDAYS and we didn't want to have an entire week ruined. So, we decided to have soups and lots of vegetables and we got a new scale that is more accurate for weighing our turkey, et cetera.

    But most of all, we reminded ourselves that on Friday, we can indulge and can relax a bit on the portions since we have a whole new week of Flex Points to use :) That is really going to help when the Gigantic Dish O' Stuffing is sitting oh-so-deliciously in front of me! :)

    Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

  17. Thanks for your insights Dave! I loved your good vs. bad options because its so truthful when it comes to the "psychology" of the day.

    I personally struggle against my old mindset of wanting to leap headfirst onto the Thanksgiving table and chewing my way down until I hit the floor vs. my new mindset of eating only what is necessary for energy. So this year, I'll be celebrating the day with my WW buddy and her family. I'm in charge of dessert and I'm making a lower-fat version of traditional Pumpkin Pie and Peach Cobbler. We're not going to stress ourselves with preparing a huge spread of every dish known to mankind, but rather a traditional roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green veggie side dish, and a choice of dessert.

    One of my "thankfuls" is that thru Weight Watchers, I'm 53 lbs. lighter than I was at Thanksgiving last year and I plan to keep it that way!

    Have a wonderful holiday!

  18. " I have a feeling that naturally thin people don't really think about food that much. I resent them all! "
    I think so too. It's even worse watching thin folks indulge. I saw a family in front of me at a baseball game eat snow cones, sausages, loaded nachos, popcorn and peanuts. I think I got fatter just watching them. :/

  19. I have thin friends and some of them think about food constantly - but they are picky about what they eat and how much. So, yes, you can obsess about food and be thin. Me, I obsess about food and struggle because I am not picky (learning to be) and it's all about portion control. However, it's not about the food, it's what is going on in your life. I eat when I'm stressed and bored. When I'm busy, I don't think about food.

  20. So glad to hear that I'm not the only one who obsesses about my next meal. And me too, my brain is so much "happier" when I make good food choices and don't overindulge. Thanksgiving meal is at my home tomorrow, I will have a good meal, not stuff myself, and cook my sides with the "lighter" version, and I will indulge in ONE small piece of pumpkin pie cheesecake for dessert.

    I am thankful for Thanksgiving Weekend three years ago. That is when I took those scary steps and walked through the doors at Weight Watchers for the very first time and have changed my life and have remained 30 pounds lighter. Thank you WW!

  21. Thanks for not making me feel like I am the only one who stresses about what to and what not to eat. The bird will be the only thing stuffed at my house. And to avoid going back for more they all will take to go plates with them as they leave!

  22. What a great post and great ideas -- thanks and happy T-Day!

  23. I am doing a moderation not deprivation approach. I blogged about it on ww community. It entails eating one serving of only the foods I like for my carb foods, turkey, veggies, fruit, dairy, healthy oils. IE my GHGs and foods are going to be tracked like any other day. I haven't decided if I will have pie but if I do it will be pumpkin. I excercised this past week and saved some WPs for tomorrow so I am ready for a healthy feast. The sodium will probably be high, as I am doing thanksgiving at an excellent casino buffet.

  24. Mental Rehearsing really does work! Plan don't have to deprive yourself of any of the wonderful traditional Thanksgiving goodies. A cliché, yes, but everything in moderation is the key. Before WeightWatchers I would fall practically face-first into the mashed potatoes, etc. There is NO way I could possibly go back to eating the way I once did. I would be nauseated for days...and it wouldn't be fun. Great blog, David!

  25. Thanks for the great blog! I've been off and on WW (and have even worked for them) for 20 years. I am excited to head back to my Lifetime goal with the new program this week. I think it's great that the program is keeping up with all the advancements in the world of nutrition. I look forward to being part of it again. It works when you work it!

  26. From someone that has lost 70 pounds at age 17 to get a date to the prom, to now 41 years on and kept it off, it is not easy at the holidays. I am a size 4 but obesity dominates my family. I counted my calories because that is what I was taught by my physician who saw my future and helped me change it. I wanted to change. I cook on Thanksgiving which is a challenge but I make healthly food and the "comfort style foods" for my relatives that are traditional. I learn to retain in my refrigerator as left-overs the healthly food. You never lose your past and what tempts you. You just have to never forget you past and how you feel now. I was interviewed by Fitness Magazine a month ago and that became the biggest confirmation and compliment of my life's hard work at staying thin and working out every day and watching what I eat. I love weight watchers and joined it online to keep track of calories and keep me on track all the time. I like something holding me accountable. I have two friends that signed up on Weight Watchers and they love it and each have lost 10 pounds so far. It works and I look forward to all the changes you have in place.

  27. Loved reading this and how true it is for me anyway. I constantly mental rehearse and feel it is a great tool. It definitely helped me lose 50 lbs. on Weight Watchers. I am a Lifetimer and cannot wait to see the new plan.

  28. As a lifetime member at goal for over a decade, I was very disappointed to see the CEO of w.w. blogging from a "personal point of view" using language such as "DISCIPLINED/GOOD on my food choices", "CONTROL...about food","eating in a NORMAL and RESTRAINED way". We learn at meetings not to use judgmental language and to find a place where food fits into life in a healthy way. David, this post does not reflect the best of what w.w. is about! I invite you to spend some time sitting in a chair at some meetings along with us - you're missing it. Come and learn another approach to enjoying food and life with weight watchers - you're invited! E-mail me!

  29. It's a constant battle between the "healthy lifestyle" and "constant dieter." We know healthy lifestyle is the evolved way to go but alas I'm still a constant dieter. Here was my Thanksgiving plan.

  30. Hi David- Mental preparation is a great way to stay committed to enjoying the holiday and respecting your body at the same time.

    Of course we all fall of the wagon and need to get back on as the holiday season has just begun. On that note an intuitive eating approach really supports weight watchers values and goals.

    Bravo and Bon Appetite!

    Jane Bernard

  31. Wow. This is also my first time to the blog, and I am very impressed to know that the CEO of Weight Watchers thinks about his next meal the way I do. I'll be back!!

  32. Thanks for the great post! This is my first time reading your blog. Like many, I am suffering from some serious ProPoints Anxiety Disorder. But I have an awesome leader and I trust her with my ass more than I do myself. ;)

    Go team.

  33. Hey, do me a big one. Can you please add on a subscription option? I'd love to get a Hey You! when you post something new.

    doing that = nifty.

    Merci Buckets - Kirsten (

  34. PLEASE START WeightWatchers ININDIA , me and many more are in need of this.. please



    ANSWER is my mail id..

    pls. or tell me where i can buy the weightwatcher products...