Can you believe we are only one week away from Thanksgiving? It is time to start dreaming about time spent with family, crisp Fall weather, perfectly roasted turkeys, and a feeling of gratitude and thanks for all the positives in your life (and regardless of your situation, I know there are many!). It is also time to prepare yourself for a healthy Thanksgiving!
Despite the fact that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, and not necessarily about stuffing ourselves silly, most of us are familiar with the feeling of a “Thanksgiving food coma.” Maybe we have said that we “feel like a stuffed turkey” or even have our own set of “Thanksgiving pants.” These are not just expressions; a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner has 3,500 – 4,500 calories, which is more than twice the daily caloric needs of the average adult. I do believe in enjoying a bit of holiday indulgence guilt-free (and I am not one to tell you to forego your once-a-year favorites and have a salad instead), but using these tips will ensure that your day of indulgence doesn’t lead to a month of unwanted extra treadmill time. (picture source)
Here are my 7 steps to a healthier Thanksgiving:
- Fit in your vegetables (and fruits). Thanksgiving plates tend to lack the healthy, vibrant colors that represent the phytonutrients and antioxidants our bodies need. So, do your best to fit in some vegetables this year. Serve a green bean casserole (with fresh green beans!) or a Brussels sprout dish (this is a delicious holiday side dish!). Offer a simple side salad to get greens on the plate. Sneak some celery, apples, leeks, carrots, or cranberries into your stuffing. Offer baked whole apples sprinkled with cinnamon as a dessert option. You may even consider a baked sweet potato – you will save up to 400 calories and 60 grams of sugar by enjoying it instead of a helping of sweet potato casserole!
- Divide your plate into thirds. This is my favorite Thanksgiving tip! I recommend filling 1/3 of your plate with turkey, 1/3 with vegetables and fruits, and 1/3 with other choices, which tend to be the carbohydrate-heavy options. This way, you get to enjoy a bit of everything without feeling deprived, but you maintain balance. It’s a lot harder to overdo the sweet potato casserole and the stuffing and the mashed potatoes if they all have to fit onto 1/3 of your plate! I found the below picture online (here) … it does a great job of following this rule!
- Alternate water with alcoholic drinks. If you start cooking (or watching football) early in the day, and the alcoholic drinks keep flowing until long after the last bit of pie has been swept from the table, you’re likely getting in more calories from alcohol than you realize. I recommend alternating each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated (which will improve digestion and keep you from feeling lethargic), but it may also slow down your alcohol intake, which is a good thing.
- Choose your dessert wisely. By the time dessert rolls around, many people feel so stuffed that they don’t really even want the Thanksgiving dessert. Still, because it only comes around once per year, they make room for several slices of pie, just because “they can.” I recommend choosing only one dessert option to keep your overall consumption in check. Choose dessert wisely: choosing pumpkin pie over pecan pie can save around 200 calories (and add in many nutrients).
- Get moving! Exercise is a great way to spend time with family while getting your heart pumping before the feast. Whether you run a local Turkey Trot, go for a walk around the neighborhood, hit the gym, or create a mini bootcamp for your family members, you will certainly feel better if you fit in some movement before settling down to dinner.
- Don’t throw in the towel on the entire season. If Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t end up to be the perfect picture of health, just move on! After all, it is only one meal. However, many people adopt the attitude that “I wasn’t healthy yesterday, I might as well just wait until New Year’s to start over,” and this is what causes the damage. Instead, wake up the next morning and treat it as a brand new start. Recommit to your health goals, and do whatever you can to make that day a great one. One day of indulgence is not that consequential, but several weeks in a row of less-than-healthy behaviors do add up!
- Be grateful. The whole point of Thanksgiving is to enjoy an indulgent and filling meal … right? (No!) So often, we forget the reason for the holiday, and forget to express our gratitude in a flurry of prepping, cooking, and watching football. Studies show that practicing gratitude can increase your happiness by 25%, so if you want to enjoy the day even more, make a list of a few things that make you smile! Happy Thanksgiving!
Now it’s your turn … What is your favorite healthy Thanksgiving tradition? What do you plan to do this Thanksgiving to keep your health on track?