Maybe you’ve tried to cut back on calories around Thanksgiving only to experience the what-the-heck effect when round two on dessert is offered. (That pretty much means you’re human, by the way.) Or perhaps you made that healthy side dish for your family but ended up heaping a few extra servings of mom’s incredible stuffing recipe onto your plate.
If your willpower has failed you on previous holiday dinners, you aren’t alone. But this could be because we’re all attempting to reign ourselves in the wrong way. One overlooked strategy to sticking with our health goals in the face of temptation (or peer pressure to over-indulge) is to focus on the very heart of Thanksgiving: Being Grateful.
Benefits of Being Gratitude On Your Physical and Mental Health
For over a decade, psychologists have demonstrated the positive effects that being grateful have on our health, our happiness, our success at work, and the satisfaction we derive from relationships.
People who are more grateful experience lower incidences of heart issues, better sleep, reduced inflammation, and an overall improved mood compared to folks who take more things for granted. Gratitude has also been shown to increase productivity, satisfaction at work, and motivation — especially to do something on behalf of others — as well as enable people to be more patient. Even better, those who express thanks on a regular basis tend to have more friends and be less lonely.
What’s all this got to do with eating less? According to Susan Peirce Thompson, author of Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin & Free, gratitude shifts the mind away from cravings and negative emotions, towards positive attitudes and experiences that trump the allure of overindulging.
How Gratitude Works Its Magic
Just like giving into a yummy treat or finding a twenty-dollar bill, giving or being on the receiving end of thanks triggers the reward centers of the brain, as a 2015 study that monitored 26 participants’ brains in an fMRI scanner found. In that way, argues Peirce Thompson, the delicious effects of being grateful on the brain may superseded the desire for something sweet — if not at least offer a much more enjoyable distraction from the taxing effort of resisting temptation.
Several studies on the efficacy of distractions in the interest of withstanding cravings have demonstrated that focusing on something other than what you’re trying to avoid improves your odds of actually avoiding it.
Additionally, Peirce Thompson explains, gratitude helps shift your focus away from how much you might want an extra helping of dessert (and how much you’re resisting it), and allowing your willpower to recharge itself as the pie tray makes its way towards your end of the table.
“Focusing on what you’re thankful for redirects you from what you want to what you have (or what others need),” says Peirce Thompson. “Gratitude also helps calm the emotional centers of our brain by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of our fight or flight response).”
Over time, practicing gratitude helps your attention more readily focus on the good things in your life, she adds. This helps feel more empowered, rather than weighed down by negative aspects of everyday existence.
Reap Gratitude’s Benefits — Right Now
Peirce Thompson recommends a daily exercise that’s been proven in clinical trials to enhance well-being and reduce cravings called the “Three Good Things.” At the start or end of each day, carve out 10 minutes to jot down three things that went well for you in the past 12 to 24 hours. No good thing is too small. Each can be as simple as “someone re-tweeted me” or as big-scale as “I got a raise today.”
Next to each entry, write as much detail about the events as possible (what you did, what was said, who else was involved) as well as how you felt both at the time each occurred and how each made you feel later on. Add a line about how you think each good thing came to pass and try to keep negativity off the page, even if it trickles into your mind.
You needn’t be a lifelong gratitude practitioner to experience its positive effects, says Peirce Thompson, but the longer (and more consistently) you’ve been doing it, the stronger its effect is likely to be on your resolve to stay healthy and on track with your dietary goals. Better yet, by practicing gratitude on a daily basis, you just might become a happier, healthier, and more likeable person.
– By Katherine Schreiber