Thanksgiving was always competitive growing up.  Don’t get me wrong, the aggressive sport did not involve pigskin, neither professional or amateur variety! Winning or losing was all about the stuffing. And as a sensitive kid, the stuffing wars caused high anxiety for me.

Stuffing Wars

The problem was there was never enough stuffing to go around.  Oddly enough, even though my grandmother always cooked enough to feed an army, the delicious stuffing full of dill, onions and mushrooms never made it around the table.  Not everyone got a satisfying mouthful of her delectable stuffing – and this caused problems for me.

This is how Thanksgiving dinner unravelled. It was a one-course extravaganza. All the different dishes would be served at once and everyone’s plate (except mine) would be overflowing with:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Coleslaw
  • Stuffing
  • Turkey
  • Cranberries
  • Cucumber salad
  • String beans

Now, there was one Thanksgiving rule in place: finish everything on your plate before going back for seconds.  This worked for my sister and cousins who would plow through their piled-high plates before rushing back for stuffing seconds. But for me, I was a slow eater, taking forever to “clean my plate.”

Forty years later, I still feel hostility toward the cousins who ate faster, beat me to the stuffing and took huge second helpings leaving little for me to enjoy. What made matters worse was that my dad, also a fast eater, would start picking the stuffing off my plate (yep, I would save the stuffing for last).

Twenty years later, I still had high anxiety towards Thanksgiving dinner. When it became my sister’s and my turn to prepare the family feast, I sat down to eat and still had anxious feelings through the entire Thanksgiving meal. You know what anxiety did to me? It made me eat way too much and behind the point of feeling full. Anxiety may also be guilty of making me become a fast eater.

The Game of Thanksgiving Dinner

I wasn’t quite sure how to work through all my anxiety. I tried making an abundance of stuffing to solve the problem.

Since I was now preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I followed my grandmother’s recipe for stuffing.  The first step was to dry out slices of bread the day prior to making the recipe.  So, the day before Thanksgiving, my family would find bread drying in the kitchen, the dining room and in the living room!  I was determined to make enough stuffing for everybody to get their full.  However, we would still find crumbs months’ later throughout the house from my attempt to overstuff Thanksgiving! (FYI: Come to think about it, perhaps my grandmother’s small apartment is in part responsible for her stuffing scarcity!)

Well, there was enough stuffing to go around – and then some!  There was more stuffing than everyone could eat and I sent everyone home with leftover containers with stuffing.  However, here is what I found both comical and tragic in the game of Thanksgiving dinner:

  • We were still engaging in speed eating.
  • I still felt anxious.
  • I still ate too much.
  • We really did not enjoy the meal or each other!

Stuffing Victory

Thankfully, I have learned to adjust my holiday eating. For Thanksgiving dinner, for Christmas dinner and for all the important celebrations, I eat differently. Here is what I do:

  • I start with a first course with 3-4 different salads.
  • A soup course follows.
  • Then, comes the main course (usually turkey).
  • Served with only 3-4 different dishes (not in abundance)
  • Dessert follows after some time to digest and without the overwhelming choice of pies, cakes and candies.
  • One lovely dessert works, two at the most.
  • Seconds often are not needed.

The good news is my holiday eating anxiety is gone.  I’m thankful for that!

  • I am eating less.
  • I have become a slower eater again.
  • Our family is using the meal more as an opportunity to connect than to gorge and compete.

I’d love to pass on to you what I have learned, through anxiety, misery and overeating!

The moral of this story is my eating behaviors often had little to do with hunger. It’s about life’s experiences that trigger real emotions. Once I am mindful of these emotions, it really easier to change eating habits.

I now focus on how I eat and why I eat, not how much I eat. Guess what? I am losing weight along the way.

Have a great – and anxiety free – holiday!

P.S. If you have your own Stuffing Story (or another tale of how experiences served to create an eating emotion or eating behavior), I would love it if you could share.

Rob Leighton, author of many acclaimed books on nutrition, gourmet cooking, un-dieting and cardiovascular health, is the creator of the Kardea Kitchen.  The Kitchen is a resource for thousands of people seeking delicious, natural solutions for heart healthy living and lasting weight loss.
Learn more about Rob’s latest book, written with Dr. Richard Collins, The Cooking Cardiologist, and un-dieting expert, Susan Buckley, RD, CDE.

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