Tips for a Healthy, Happy and Not-Too-Stuffed Thanksgiving

Sharon Rekieta, Fitness and Wellness Director - 22nd November 2013

Ahh—Thanksgiving!  If it’s not the biggest “eating” holiday of the year, it has to be in the top two!

I know the focus is supposed to be on connecting with family and gathering to offer thanks for all of our blessings, but let’s face it, aren’t most of us also looking forward to turkey and stuffing and pie, oh my.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could enjoy the holiday, sample the sensational seasonal bounty and leave the “stuffed” description to the turkey?

It can be done if you follow these tips:

Start creating a calorie deficit:  For the next five days, carefully watch the quality and quantity of what you eat. Skip the desserts, fast food, and processed items.  Instead, select plenty of whole grains, fresh vegetables and lean sources of protein and limit yourself to an appropriate number of calories each day.

Start building a calorie-burning surplus:

If you already have a workout program, add an additional 10 – 30 minutes a day.
If you do not have an established routine—start one!  Even a 30-minute walk will help burn off calories.

Plan some healthy choices for the Thanksgiving Day meal:
If you’re hosting, it is pretty easy to make the traditional favorites along with slimmed-down versions. For example, if your family and friends expect the green bean casserole with the rich soup and fried onion rings, then make it!  But also prepare a bowl of fresh green beans steamed with herbs and just a touch of butter.

Gravy can be made with low-fat evaporated milk, fresh sweet potatoes can be baked, mashed and flavored with cinnamon, and whole-wheat bread can replace high-fat butterflake rolls.
If you are not hosting dinner, offer to bring a healthier side dish or two.

What you can do on Thanksgiving Day:
Eat breakfast! 
Although you might be tempted to forego eating to save room for dinner, it could backfire.  If you let your body get too hungry, you will most likely start making bad choices and overeat.

Go easy on the appetizers and pre-dinner snacks.
Even a small helping of some appetizers can add up to a large calorie count.  Steer clear of nuts, cheeses and creamy dips.  If you’re in the mood for some light snacking, choose fresh veggies.

Also go easy on the alcoholic beverages.
You can still enjoy your favorite wine or mixed drink, but alternate glasses of water in between drinks.  Try sparkling water for a more festive refreshment.

Is it worth it?
When its time for dinner, whether you’re walking a buffet line or surveying the family-style servings on the table, take a moment to ask yourself: is it worth it?  If there are everyday choices that you can enjoy anytime, it might be a good idea to pass those by and concentrate on the seasonal selections.

Desserts: Deserved or Disasters?
Although no one will ever describe desserts that include a crust as “healthy,” there are choices that do not create too much damage.  Eat only the filling: the crust is almost nutritionally worthless and packed with fat, so if you can avoid it altogether, that would be best.  It’s really pretty easy to eat the fruit or cream filling while leaving the crust on your plate.
Eat only a tiny slice of pie and savor the deliciousness of every bite—especially if you must eat the crust.
Serve yourself sample bite-size pieces if there are several of your favorites to choose from.  And again, chew slowly and savor each mouthful.
Note that pumpkin pie is the best choice of all if you plan to enjoy a full slice as it is low in calories compared to other pies and includes vitamin A and antioxidants that keep cells healthy.
Burn it Off!
Gather the gang for a walk after the meal.  Movement will aid digestion and you can take the opportunity to chat and catch up with your friends and family.
If you’re settling in to watch football, whenever either team scores, get off the couch and perform a number of jumping jacks, squats, or push-ups that equal the points on the scoreboard.

Quite often, anxiety drives our appetite and we drink or eat to calm down.  So this year, several times throughout the day, slow down, take a few deep breaths and reflect on the blessings in your life and the people you love.  Bringing those thoughts to the forefront will shift our focus to what is really important.

I’ll close with my favorite Thanksgiving Day sentiment:
Selected lyrics from My Thanksgiving by Don Henley

I’ve got great expectations
I’ve got family and friends
I’ve got satisfying work
And a back that bends

For every breath
For every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving.