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Holidays in general aren’t particularly great for people trying to lose weight, since most of them are so food-oriented. And generally speaking, the food is not the healthiest. Easter baskets stuffed with candy, Halloween bags stuffed with candy, hot dogs and hamburgers and shortcake and ice cream on the 4th of July, cookies and pies and whipped cream and all sorts of other things on Christmas, finger foods and snacks on New Year’s Eve, and more. But the most challenging, I find, is Thanksgiving.

I don’t think you could design a holiday with more mixed messages if you tried. On the one hand, one of the major things almost anyone trying to lose weight is supposed to bear in mind is portion control. Some diets propose (and I agree) that it’s okay to eat sweet things, or fatty foods, as long as they’re in small, amounts. Then we come to Thanksgiving where, as my brother commented yesterday, you’re supposed to eat to the point of being as stuffed as the turkey.

The problem, of course, is that the first Thanksgiving (and the second, third, and many after) took place when people didn’t always have a lot of food. Up until the point of harvest, gardens don’t provide very much in the way of sustenance, and people had no choice but to live off whatever they had preserved from the year before until the bounty of the new year started to roll in. Then, when it did, it made sense to really indulge, to fatten up while they could, knowing that fat would be burned off in the lean times.

The tricky part is that most of us today don’t live in that kind of world. Most of us who can afford to have an all-out, gut-busting Thanksgiving can afford to have enough food on our table throughout the year. For someone trying to lose weight, partaking of the turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, peas, corn, mashed potatoes, squash, rolls, endless numbers of pies, and who knows what else results in the complete opposite of thankfulness. Instead, stepping on the scale the next day and discovering that you’ve gained back in a single day those three or four or five pounds it took you weeks to lose is more than an enormous setback; it makes you feel guilty and sick that you didn’t have more self-control. Yes, you might lose the weight again fairly quickly, but it puts you on the wrong side of the scale. On the other hand, if you don’t participate in the ritual of eating, you feel extremely self-conscious and lonely with your meager plate while watching other people unabashedly eating enormous amounts of food.

I don’t necessarily have a solution for this, and I can’t claim that I’ve been a paragon of virtue in this regard – I did gain a pound yesterday, and only didn’t gain more because I walked over three miles. It’s just something to bear in mind as the holidays roll around, and to be sensitive of for those around us who are desperately trying not to over-eat, even (or especially) on this day when it’s expected of us

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