Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving

Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow’s Turkey Day!

All over the U.S., families are reuniting over the next 48 hours to enjoy food, football, and fun. Some families may be larger or closer than others, but Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday for anyone to slow down and practice an attitude of gratitude.

However, we all know that Thanksgiving is also associated with the tradition of “feasting” as much as it is connected to a grateful spirit. How do we balance the spirit of celebration with the concept of a healthy Thanksgiving?

Here are my top ten tips for a healthy Thanksgiving:

  1. Change your mindset about holiday feasting. Remember that many holiday “feasts” originated at times in history when people ate repetitive, sometimes meager, food day after day. Holidays were special celebrations of plenty. Now, by contrast, Americans overeat regularly on a great variety of foods – many of us on a daily basis – and holidays have upped the ante by practically becoming food orgies. It’s all about perspective and practicing an attitude of gratitude – not about the food itself.
  2. Focus on enjoying the uniqueness and tradition of Thanksgiving fare, not the amount. Holidays, depending on your family tradition, often have very specific foods associated with them. Whether you eat turkey or teriyaki on Thanksgiving, focus on the “specialness” and tradition of those foods, not on eating as much of them as possible. We don’t get cranberry every day!
  3. Don’t try to diet on Thanksgiving. Depriving yourself of foods that you truly want on holidays is sure to backfire. This is not the time to try a new, adventurous juice cleanse or elimination diet. Instead, refer back to #2 and focus on selecting a variety of foods that are satisfying, fun, and different from your everyday eating lifestyle. Portion control will be much more effective than avoiding carbohydrates, sugar, or fat on a holiday. Just try a little of everything, and appreciate the love and time that family members or friends have put into preparation. Especially when it comes to desserts, scoop out literally one bite of everything that looks good to you, and make yourself a “sampler” plate of tiny portions.
  4. Stay hydrated. Many times we overeat mindlessly because we’re bored or uncomfortable. We just want our hands to be busy. If awkward conversations are coming up at your family Thanksgiving, swap out your soft drink (or hard drink!) for glasses of water. You may be running to the bathroom frequently, but staying hydrated will help curb overeating, and drinking water also gives you something calorie-free to consume if a conversation becomes uncomfortable or if the turkey is taking longer than anticipated.
  5. Make a plate and “step away.” In other words, most holiday meals are served “family style” – meaning, a large, heaping platter in the middle of the table from which everyone helps themselves. This is a disaster for portion control. Make your plate, and then don’t get seconds. One statistic says that many people eat 4,000 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. This is not because turkey is magically calorie-rich. It’s because people help themselves to seconds and thirds. Multiple plates add up quickly, especially if you have multiple helpings of dessert, as well. I’m not a fan of dieting, but a good “rule” for family-style service is getting everything you want on one plate, and then no more.
  6. Talk, help, or leave. As I alluded to already, I believe that most overeating on Thanksgiving is because of boredom or discomfort, not because the food is so incredibly alluring. Talk to someone. Ask them questions about themselves. Find common ground. Have a drink of water in your hand the entire time, by the way. If you don’t feel like talking, volunteer to help in the kitchen. It will keep you busy and on your feet. Volunteer to pick up items at the store that may have been forgotten – more ice, napkins, or other sundries. Whatever you do, don’t sit near a bowl of nuts and awkwardly eat for two hours while waiting for the meal to start.
  7. Bring your own healthy dish. Check out this “Crazy Sexy Thanksgiving Menu” by Kris Carr. If you have been losing weight over time and you don’t want to blow it on Thanksgiving, bring at least one item that you feel would substitute for a less healthy option.
  8. Make your own decisions about food, instead of succumbing to peer pressure. You don’t have to eat everything you see or are pressured to eat. You can just eat what you want, and leave the rest alone. Often, when people pressure others to eat something, they are doing it out of insecurity or a need to control. If you feel that a family member or friend is giving you a hard time for making healthier choices, transform the energy down by refusing to engage, and do your best to make your own choices with which you feel comfortable. Be true to yourself!
  9. Seek fiber-rich foods as often as possible. Eat steel-cut oats for breakfast. Try to eat sweet potatoes with the skins on, if possible. Eat a salad with every meal, or a “big salad” (think Elaine Benes) instead of a meal. Have a handful of raw almonds with an apple as a snack. Throw some kidney beans or cannellini beans onto a salad. Eating high-fiber foods, while staying hydrated, will help you to process excess calories and dietary fat.
  10. Finally, take care of yourself in every way, not just healthy eating. Holidays can be stressful due to travel and family obligations. If you are staying with family, grant yourself permission to have alone time. If you are flying to stay with family, spring the extra money to rent a car, instead of relying on others for transportation. This will give you valuable freedom and the ability to control your own schedule. Holidays are a time to love others, but they are also a time to show love for ourselves by relaxing and enjoying. Give yourself permission to get what you need on Thanksgiving day and for the whole holiday weekend!