Why does giving thanks have to lead to food comas and indigestion? While Thanksgiving dates back to a group of European settlers and Native Americans feasting over a plentiful harvest at Plymouth in 1621, most harvesting performed these days involves a bit less manual labor. Rather, we’re driving over to the local supermarket and filling our carts with turkeys, pumpkin pie and the ingredients for mashed potatoes and stuffing.
Our modern interpretation has evolved into a celebration of family, friends and lots of food. Consider the holiday’s common nickname: Turkey Day. In many ways it seems that the true meaning of Thanksgiving has been lost somewhere between the hors d’oeuvres, the gut-busting dinner buffet and the proliferation of pies for dessert. This year, let’s give thanks to our health and finish the day feeling light and energetic by following some of the following tips:
Make Nutritious Nudges – If you control the day’s menu, make healthy options available. Have crudite’ with appetizers. Make a big salad with dinner. Offer fruit as part of dessert. Or make healthier tweaks to recipes. Bake instead of fry. Use less butter in the mashed potatoes. Use more spices (zero calories).
Portion Your Plate – When faced with a buffet, it’s amazing how quickly our eyes can become bigger than our stomach. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to know that you’re full – plenty of time to have seconds and not realize you’re full. And then you’re stuffed.
So, use smaller dishes and pile them up with fruits and veggies. Don’t use a plate for your appetizers, so every time you want another one you actually have to go get it. Use a salad plate with dinner; research shows that we tend to eat less when we have less in front of us. Then give yourself 15 minutes before getting seconds to give your body a chance to catch up. If you’re still hungry, get more. Finally, load up half your plate with veggies or fruit each time you go up, as they will typically be lower in calories and more filling due to their water and fiber content.
Indulge Wisely – It’s important to be sensible on food-focused holidays, which also means allowing ourselves to enjoy the foods that we rarely have otherwise. For me, that’s sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, mmm.
The key is to choose the indulgences you really enjoy and only have those. In other words, if you love the home-made pumpkin pie, have a slice (maybe not the entire pie). If the stuffing is heavenly, enjoy a serving! Just consider whether it’s also worth having the cheese and crackers with the appetizers, second helpings of mashed potatoes and trying all of the desserts on the table. If the day loses meaning to you without having a particular food, then have it. If it doesn’t, then leave it.
Stay Active – We can give our body a great head start toward digesting those Thanksgiving calories by exercising that morning. Go to the gym or go for a jog. You can even take it a step further by changing the focus of Thanksgiving from watching football and eating food to another activity, such as playing board games, charades, or even touch football outside with the family! We tend to eat when we have nothing else to do. Do something else.
Get Back on the Horse – Even with the best laid plans, stuff happens. One unhealthy decision or day of eating doesn’t ruin our health or fitness, but allowing ourselves to continue those actions for the rest of the month or year might. So rather than feeling guilty or defeated, acknowledge your unintended indulgences (hopefully you enjoyed them), know that they don’t happen every day unless you let them, and redouble your focus to healthier eating and staying active as soon as you can.
If you’re hosting, give away all your unwanted, calorie-laden leftovers. If you’re visiting, don’t take home any leftovers, unless it’s salad. If the host and visitors are both reading this article, good luck!
Choose the tip that most applies to your situation, make a change, and enjoy a happy, healthy Turkey Day! I personally give thanks for feedback, so please leave a comment below and let me know what tip(s) worked for you, and which didn’t.
Jason Machowsky is a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and certified personal trainer at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.