Let’s face it, there’s nothing low-calorie about Thanksgiving.
The Thursday of thanks is gluttony’s national holiday as much as it is a time to spend with loved ones.
Any American over the age of 10 seems to know this. Which makes it all the more trying to go into the holiday with a healthy eating plan in place. Thanksgiving is a naked land mine just waiting to blow your best intentions to bits.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So say local nutrition and exercise specialists — who aren’t super human, mind you, they sit at the table with stuffing and pecan pie just like the rest of us Americans.
Employ one or all of their strategies to have as healthy a Thanksgiving as possible.
Eat before you go.
The best way not to overindulge at Thanksgiving dinner? Have a mostly full belly before you go. Studio Alpha personal trainer and fitness competitor Lovena Tuley recommends filling up on something healthy before any tempting food situation — whether that be Thanksgiving dinner or something more ubiquitous like a birthday party or wedding.
“Fill yourself up on food you know is good,” says Tuley, who will eat egg-white omelets before big events. “There is nowhere I go — literally, if I can help it — hungry. I’m absolutely impulsive. If I were hungry, I would eat my foot.”
If you do eat ahead and aren’t hungry but are tempted by appetizers, Tuley recommends drinking water or unsweetened iced tea to keep that “hand-to-mouth” action going without taking in unneeded calories. She says this move makes you feel as if you’re participating while sitting there with people who are eating, but it keeps you on target.
Bring your own food.
Traveling for your dinner? Bring a cooler full of healthy snacks, says Shannon Jones, registered dietitian with Simple Solutions. This will keep you from starting off Thanksgiving morning with a binge on convenience items from the gas station.
“I am a huge fan of planning ahead. You might pack some snacks and a lunch versus stopping on I-35 at the McDonald’s on the median,” Jones says. “I always have a bin of healthy snacks in the car. Then when we do stop for gas and the kids are hungry, we have a cooler with fruit in it. ... We have healthy little munchies so that, one, you’re not spending the money, and, two, you’re in control of what you’re eating on the way there. So that when you do get there you’ve not thrown in the towel beforehand.”
Tuley says that if you take this idea one step further and bring something healthy to share at the Thanksgiving table, do not apologize for its healthfulness.
“We don’t ask when it’s unhealthy, ‘Hey, is this worse than normal?’ Nobody else comes to the table and says what’s in everything — then we probably wouldn’t eat half the food,” Tuley says. “You start off and think you have to put the caveat or the asterisk above your food and apologize — ‘It might not be as tasty, it’s healthy.’ Which automatically is going to set the mind-set different to how they taste it.”
Survey the scene, then pick one thing.
When the dinner bell is rung, check out exactly what you have in front of you says Staci Hendrickson, a registered dietitian with Healthy Balance. She says to take note of what there is and then pick one thing you really want. No matter what that is, make that your one special splurge and avoid filling up on everything else.
“Surveying the scene and picking out the things you know you really, really want — especially if there are some special dishes that this may be the only time in the whole entire year you ever have a chance to eat it,” says Hendrickson, who says she focuses in on her family’s Thanksgiving chicken and noodles. “And then maybe if there are some dishes that you don’t care for or you can have anytime you want, you don’t take as much of those or you don’t eat any of those items.”
But keep your meal reasonable.
Aynsley Anderson, registered nurse and community education coordinator for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, says setting certain parameters can help you keep your portions reasonable.
“If you are at a large event where there might be a buffet table, put yourself as far away from the table as you can. Stay away from going back, limit yourself to just one trip through,” says Anderson, who suggests filling your plate with half fruits and veggies, a quarter protein and a quarter high-quality starch. “Use a smaller plate, if that’s possible. Fill up on fruits and veggies and healthy stuff and really limit your portion size.”
No matter how much food ends up on that one plate, make sure not to fill up too much, even if you still have something left on your plate.
“The goal I talk about with my clients about is not feeling stuffed — still having that, ‘I’m full, but I’m comfortably full’ feeling when they’re done eating,” says Hendrickson.
Work in Thanksgiving Day exercise.
Anderson and Jones both say one of the best things you can do before or after the turkey is get out and get moving.
“Try not to make Thanksgiving so much about the food,” says Anderson. “Try to schedule some sort of activity during the day, a family walk or Wii golf — just activity so you’re not just sitting watching football all day.”
Think about why you’re eating.
Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday, whether you’re spending it with family or not. Tuley says this makes it extra important to think about why you’re eating — is it because you’re hungry, or is it because what’s on your plate was made by someone near and dear to your heart?
“Don’t confuse love, affection and tradition and make that an excuse to continue bad habits,” Tuley says. “It is complicated, because it’s not as simple as just food. It is emotional, and it is ritual and I think you have to start with, ‘Why do I feel anxious when these holidays are coming up? And what can I do to empower myself to not be as vulnerable?’ And then don’t expect perfection. The ‘perfect’ is going to be the experience with your family. It’s not about the food.”
Make it one day, and one day only.
Pretty sure there’s no way you’re going to be able to totally stick to your guns within such close proximity to your favorite foods? Jones says to just enjoy your family, your friends and the food, and then when Black Friday comes, go back to the way you normally would eat, leftovers be darned.
“Enjoy yourself and enjoy the food,” Jones says of Thanksgiving. “The key, honestly, is what you do the day after and the things you do leading up to that day.”