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eating competence for adults: Holiday edition

Posted by on Nov 11, 2010 in Blog Posts | 5 comments

check the original out here, link to it, share it! This is Ellyn Satter’s Family Meals Focus for the month. Check out their archives…

November 2010 • Family Meals Focus #51 • Holiday Eating Success Story

This story comes from ESI Consultant Pam Estes, with permission from one of her How to Eat graduates, a recovering chronic dieter and recovering chronic overeater. To read about How to Eat, see Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.1

Our Thanksgiving tradition consists of a trek to a wonderful smorgasbord restaurant. In past years, I would skip breakfast and arrive famished. To “get my money’s worth” I would skip the salad bar (even though I love salad) and go right to the hot foods. I would get a little of everything – and more than a little of my favorites – and make a return trip for more of my favorites, even though I was already stuffed. I would finish off with about three deserts. The trip home was miserable, and I still never felt like I really “got my money’s worth!”

This year, I approached Thanksgiving with quite a different plan. The night before, I mulled over the choices of all the wonderful foods that are usually offered. Then I made a list of my personal favorites. I was clear with myself that once I got there I could add or subtract from this list if I wanted. No pressure! I also decided that instead of concentrating on “getting my money’s worth” I would get what I wanted. Period. What I actually wanted was the salad bar I had denied myself in past years.

When we arrived, I hit the salad bar first. I lingered over the salads, they were so yummy. As I ate, I realized my husband and boys were on their second plates of hot food! No problem – this is not an eating contest. If it was, I had already lost! With my hunger somewhat satisfied, but still anticipating what was next, I made my choices for the rest of my meal. It was easy for me to skip the mashed potatoes and have extra chicken livers. Yum. I did not worry about eating everything I had on my plate. I realized about half-way through my hot food that I couldn’t eat it all, and if I did, I wouldn’t have room for deserts – which I really wanted. So I stopped!

Desserts at this restaurant are special. All the favorites are there – pecan pie, bread pudding, cheesecake, ice-cream, chocolate cake – whew! Most things are already sliced and on plates, and their portions are very small. This works out just great, because I can have more than one without getting too full. And I did have more than one – three to be exact! Bread pudding, peppermint ice cream and cheesecake.

Was I full on the way home? Yes. Was I miserable? No! But the best part was that I had what I wanted, and enjoyed it all!

I cook on Christmas, so I have more control over what is served. I won’t alter my menu very much, since I am really cooking for my family, and want to prepare their favorites. So far I have noticed that I can keep ingredients for cookies in the house without eating them up before I make the cookies – chocolate chips, etc. This is a big change from years past. It is comforting just knowing they are there, and that I can have them if I want them. I will approach Christmas dinner the same way as Thanksgiving. I will have what I want, enjoy my favorites first, and then go from there! Happy eating!

1. Satter, E.M., Chapter 4, Eat as Much as You Want, in Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook. 2008, Kelcy Press: Madison, WI. p. 27-43. Copyright © 2010 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

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  1. Ines Anchondo

    Thank you for reprinting here, Katja. This is a great post.

  2. DivaJean

    Holiday meals are always such a minefield!

    This year, we are likely eating at my in-laws. They are very prone to comment on amounts taken from serving bowls that my daughter and I take. But no one else. Did I mention we are the “big ones”? My in laws, my partner, my sister in law and her husband are all about 5 ft tall and thin. I am 5’9″ and big. My daughter is 5’2″ at 11 years old (ie taller than grown ups); my other children are more sized to the in laws side of the family. I hate the precursory feeling of knowing it will happen. I have addressed this on several occasions (as has my partner), but it still creeps in. When it does happen (not if, but when), I try to get the conversation moved on to something else or just say something like “Well of course I’m taking this MUCH. It’s your delicious cooking!” and aim the vitriol on me rather than my daughter. I really don’t want her to face the baloney I faced as a big girl- but here she is. After, I always take time to check in with her privately and discuss her feelings. She is really at a tough age and I am thinking my aim will be stronger than in the past this year. I am not gunning for a fight or a big family drama- I just want the crap to stop.

    • KellyK

      Virtual hugs if you want them. Good for you for looking out for your daughter–it’s really tough to have an adult-sized body as a teen/preteen.

      Would it help to talk to the in-laws beforehand to ask that they don’t comment on what or how much your daughter is eating? (Maybe if you are doing the Division of Responsibility thing, tell them about it, and mention that questioning or judging how much food someone is taking plays havoc with that, especially with a kid, because it takes the place of their own internal cues.)

      • katja

        Katja here, having trouble logging in on the road 🙂
        Holidays for sure are a minefield for eating and weight. Especially Thanksgiving. Seems like everyone’s weight and what they are eating is fair game in many families. My friend who helps families caring for loved ones with an eating disorder ( says it’s really hard around eating disorders too. Why we ever feel the right to comment about weight is beyond me. The “You look great! Have you lost weight?” to a 14 year old, or to someone near her can be damaging. What if she’s lost weight by restriciting, over-exercising or bingeing? Those behaviors have just been powerfully reinforced. What if someone teases a pre-teen about “laying off the stuffing” when she is going through her pre-pubertal weight gain that is healthy and normal for her? Will she begin her first diet? One of many? Or “You’re losing weight, how are you doing it?” “Well, it’s the cancer, it’s very effective…”
        Anyhow. I now know better and NEVER, EVER comment about weight and try not to talk about looks at all. How about, “I’m so glad to see you! I missed your smile (laugh, hugs, jokes…”
        So, in this case with the meddling in-laws, here are a few thoughts (some for humor’s sake and a little passive aggressive, but it might work.)
        When the food goes around, “Sam, why aren’t you taking more of Edna’s stuffing? Don’t you like it? DId you eat right before you came over so you wouldn’t starve?” or
        “We think it’s rude to comment at all about who is eating what or how much. We’re here for the great company and great food.”
        “Yes Edna, I love your stuffing. You can stuff the rest of your comments though.”
        It might be good to try to talk to the folks ahead of time, but I know that might not help. My family still doesn’t get it after many discussion (though they are better), so I try to deflect and change the subject.
        I think it’s good to check in with your daughter, but also don’t assume she is as bothered as you are. Maybe listen first and see how she is interpreting it. Sometimes we project our wounds and pain onto them. For example, M said, “I feel fat” the other day. My heart fell and I almost jumped into a long speach. I waited and she patted her new coat which made fastening her seat belt a little tricky.
        I’m not saying that your daughter isn’t picking up the not-so-subtle messages flying around, but for other readers, pause for a second before you assume. Then if you need to reassure, love, reinforce then go for it. The good news is that Thanksgiving is only once a year, and the messages that she gets from you the rest of the year are the most important. GOod luck! Maybe next year it will be time to start a new tradition 🙂

  3. Heidi

    I love this – last Thanksgiving, for the first time in my life, I gave myself permission NOT to taste everything on the table because I felt obligated to do so. It was the first Thanksgiving that it was just my parents, sister, husband, son and I, and my mom and I planned a meal that included everyone’s favorite foods and nothing more.

    Best Thanksgiving ever. I piled on the stuffing, had some turkey, lots of veggies, and nothing that I wasn’t in the mood to eat. It was fantastic and I walked away full but not unsatisfied.

    I wish I could do that for every meal. Someday!


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