The Fool-Proof Guide For A Healthy Thanksgiving Without Changing Tradition

How do you honor holiday food traditions without completely derailing the work you've done to reach your health goals? It's easy! Here's my secret...

November 17, 2015
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Are you gearing up for Thanksgiving? Do you have your menu set yet? Let’s face it: the food we await all year is not just food; it’s memory and nostalgia, love and familiarity. There are some really cool healthy twists on Thanksgiving favorites out there.

But that’s not what this article is about.

This article goes out to the true Thanksgiving purists, the ones who want none of the internet’s mashed cauliflower or vegduckens.

I’m here to help. You don’t have to throw in the towel until New Year’s just because your favorite recipes don’t mesh with your health goals.

My Fool-Proof Guide For A Healthy Thanksgiving Without Changing A Single Recipe:

Step 1: Every other day (OK, most others), make sure your diet is jam-packed with nutrient dense foods.

What does your diet look like the other 364 days of the year? Fall in love with veggies. Quench your thirst with water. Don’t overdo it on the fried food and sweets. Learn to appreciate the hearty texture of a good, whole grain bread. You know the drill. Do all that, and one night won’t make much of a difference.

Step 2: Don’t forget breakfast and (maybe) lunch on Thanksgiving day.

Saving your calories doesn’t work; it just makes you cranky and so desperate for food, you pile your plate even higher. Now, sure, maybe don’t go for a five-course lunch two hours before you sit down to the turkey, but do eat sensibly and regularly leading up to the main “event.”

Step 3: Move your body.

Sneak in an early morning run or gym session. Rally up friends for a game of touch football. Run around with the kids before dinner is ready. Round up the troops and take a brisk walk between dinner and dessert. Don’t do it to “earn” the right to eat more or punish yourself for having eaten too much; do it because it puts you in a fresh, motivated state of mind and keeps you from losing sight of your goals.

Step 4: Know thy spread, know thyself.

Ask around to figure out what everyone is bringing, and make a game plan. Get a good mix of better-for-you options and the dishes that define Thanksgiving for you. Oftentimes, we eat something out of habit or because it’s there. Which dishes are Thanksgiving exclusives (Aunt Mae’s prize-winning pumpkin pie), and which can you get pretty much any day of the year (dinner rolls with butter)? Is turkey your jam, but green bean casserole not so much? By all means, eat what you love, but don’t waste your time on the dishes that aren’t that special.

Step 5: Breathe.

Once you have your plate in front of you, pause for at least five seconds. Say a prayer if you’d like, or simply take a deep breath. There’s a lot of commotion involved in getting the meal on the table, and this simple act can be the difference between savoring your food and wolfing it down in the blink of an eye.

Step 6: Eat to satisfaction, not discomfort.

Isn’t it ironic that we talk so much about Thanksgiving food bringing so much joy, and yet we eat so much of it that we make ourselves physically ill? Take a pause before going for seconds. Can you pack a serving up and have it with lunch the next day instead, when you’re not so full? If you don’t eat another bite, will you later regret it, or will you have forgotten all about it? Be honest with yourself. And remember, Thanksgiving happens every year. This same food will be back before you know it.

Step 7: Focus on the holiday.

Thanksgiving is about taking a moment to appreciate your life. How could you celebrate in non-food ways? Enjoy the conversation. Spend some time with relatives, in from out of town. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Sign up for a Turkey Trot or charity walk. Food has become the main event, but it’s really only one part of the holiday. Celebrate the day to its full capacity.

Step 8: Walk away.

What happens at the Thanksgiving dinner table, stays at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Whether you feel great or a bit overstuffed, remember that Friday morning is another day, an opportunity to start fresh. Make yourself a healthy breakfast. Meet up with a friend for a spirited shopping marathon. Sure, make a note of the decisions you made the night before and how they made you feel both physically and emotionally so that you can hopefully learn from the experience, but then move on.

There you have it: a healthier Thanksgiving without messing with tradition.

So go ahead, eat that turducken!

Just, you know, maybe not the whole turducken?

However you celebrate, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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