Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for all we have. And as Americans, we love to use this as an excuse to gorge ourselves stupid.
I mean, what self-respecting holiday doesn’t involve a feast?
We are thankful for that turkey! And for the ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, biscuits, pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, and anything else that happens to be within eye sight.
Okay, maybe some of us are not thankful for the obligatory vegetable casserole, but we know Grandma will be mad if we don’t take at least a little scoop, so we find a small corner of the plate and plop some on. We are grateful for Grandma too, after all.
Yet deep down we all know this is not an isolated meal, but rather the beginning of a feast that lasts from the third Thursday in November until January 1. Holiday parties and family gatherings will start popping up week after week, and all the while the short days and cool weather thwart our best intentions to go for a jog.
Once Thanksgiving comes it will be six long weeks before we again remember to dust off our gym memberships and emerge from our cookie-induced daze as the reality of our new pants size starts to sink in. Yikes.
Health-wise, the holidays are difficult for us all. But don’t worry, I am not going to ask you to forego Thanksgiving dinner. Instead I have a few pieces of advice to keep this Season of Fat in perspective.
Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tips
- Try not to graze. Thanksgiving dinner itself is really not so bad. As much as I sometimes wish it were, this holiday is not Carnitas Day. Usually the most significant sources of calories during the holiday season is the casual eating we do outside of mealtime. When you aren’t in a sit down meal mentality, it’s easy to lose track of how much you are really eating. Avoid the midday chip bowls, artichoke dips and cookie platters, and you are on your way to minimizing the health risks of Thanksgiving.
- Beware of the most dangerous foods: breads, sweets, dips, creams, chips, potatoes and cheese. These are the foods that pack in the calories with little nutritional value and minimal satisfaction. It is frighteningly easy to suck down 500 extra calories of chips and onion dip. In fact, you have probably done it. You do not even want to know how many calories are in pumpkin cheese cake (hint: possibly more than in your entire dinner). It is okay to eat these foods, just do not eat them blindly.
- Watch your portions. When it comes to snacks, it is easier to be aware of your portions if you take the amount you want to eat and put it on a separate plate. Better yet, just eat structured meals. Trust me, it is way easier to eat less when you are seated and focused on your meal. If not-so-healthy foods are part of your actual meal, help yourself to a normal-sized portion, enjoy it and do not go back for seconds. Eat these foods slowly, savor every bite, and you will not feel deprived.
- Eat a balanced meal. Make an effort to have at least half your plate filled with vegetables. No, mashed potatoes do not count (sorry). Even if the vegetables have some sort of cheesy sauce on them, at least they have fiber and nutrients and are low energy density. It is harder to stuff yourself with pie when your belly is full of veggies. The rest of your plate can be turkey, stuffing, potatoes and all the other stuff traditions are made of. Piling your turkey on top of your stuffing is cheating, by the way.
- Stay hydrated. Overeating (which you should avoid, but may not succeed at avoiding) can cause dehydration, and thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Drink water throughout your festivities.
- Enjoy yourself. The best part about the holiday season is being able to spend it with the people you care about. Your friends and family should be the focus of your holiday, not the food on your plate. Spend the day and meal talking with loved ones and savoring your food rather than silently wolfing it down. If you eat slowly, you are much more likely to eat proper portions and enjoy the food you do eat.
Happy holidays and be healthy!