FEASTING THE HEALTHY WAY
While all holidays are centered around food, Thanksgiving is all about the feast. So how can we enjoy the holiday without completely abandoning our health goals?
The average American may eat as much as 4500 calories on Thanksgiving Day, including appetizers, drinks, and deserts according to a study from the Calorie Control Council. That is more than double what the average daily caloric intake should be! And unfortunately, most of it is not from healthy calories, despite the healthy turkey that takes center stage.
As evidence that you can’t out-exercise your fork, running a full 26.2-mile marathon will burn around 3,000 calories. If you’re planning to rationalize that extra piece of pumpkin pie because you ran a Thanksgiving 5K or plan on going for a walk after dinner, you won’t be doing much to put a dent in those excess calories.
The food we eat represents a whole lot more than just fuel, and that’s truer than ever at the holidays. The dishes you will find on the Thanksgiving buffet are likely the same foods you’ve been eating since a child, recipes and traditions that have been in your family for generations. No matter how strictly you control your diet the rest of the year, you may feel powerless to resist that stuffing or pecan pie. And there’s good news! You don’t have to!
Still, giving in to family traditions is not the same as surrendering to a 4,500-calorie meal. There can be balance. You can still enjoy your favorites and not wind up in a food coma. By the way, don’t blame the tryptophan; after you eat that much food your body has to divert more blood to digestion, and that is what leaves you sleepy and lethargic.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy Thanksgiving Day without eating 3 days’ worth of food.
Start with a high-protein breakfast
If you try and “save your calories” for the feast you will arrive hungry and definitely overeat. Start your day with a hearty, low-sugar breakfast, like bacon and eggs or a veggie omelet, and you’ll be able to make better choices later in the day as you load your plate.
Enjoy your turkey!
Roast turkey is one of those healthy lean meats we should be eating more of. Serve yourself up a nice portion, about the size of a deck of cards, to get a nice big dose of healthy protein to slow digestion and keep you fuller longer.
Load up on the veggies
Fill you plate with healthy vegetable dishes. Simple roasted sweet potatoes, balsamic-glazed Brussels sprouts, steamed green beans, and green salads deliver tons of nutrition and satisfying fiber without as many calories as their carby counterparts.
Rewrite some classics
Certain foods are non-negotiable when it comes to Thanksgiving. Decide if any of your traditional sides can be lightened up. Try these green beans with brown butter instead of the thick processed green bean casserole, or a DIY sweet potato bar instead of the sugar-laden marshmallow creation.
Savor smaller portions
It’s okay to enjoy your favorite dish without guilt! However, it’s really the first bite and the last bite that count. You don’t need a mountain of mashed potatoes to satisfy. Take small portions and savor every bite.
If appetizers are a part of your celebration, bring a veggie tray with a simple, light dip. You’ll feel like you’re eating a lot but will fill up on fiber for just a few calories.
Decide on dessert
Desserts are often the real star of Thanksgiving dinner, and it can be very difficult to choose when faced with a variety of pies, cookies, and cakes. If it’s important to you, have a taste; if it’s not, take a pass. If you want to sample, be sure to cut yourself tiny slivers of the different offerings.
Choose your leftovers wisely
Remember that Thanksgiving is one day. Eating stuffing and pie on Thanksgiving won’t derail your health goals too badly, but if you eat leftovers of stuffing and pie for a week, you could be headed for trouble. If you’re hosting, try and send home the leftovers of the less healthy options with your guests. If you are a guest and are invited to bring some leftovers, only pack the dishes that fit into your typical healthy diet.
When you head to the table wearing stretchy pants, you’re giving yourself permission to overindulge. Instead, plan ahead and picture yourself eating a moderately sized dinner. Pick out some puzzles or games, or gather your relatives for a walk so you don’t just sit around eating all day! Shift the focus away from the feast to the family and the festivities, and give your thanks for your health and all the wonderful people and blessings in your life.
Nourishing Thoughts is written by Julie Miller, an expert on nutrition and fitness instructor at the C.W. Avery Family YMCA.