Thanksgiving: a day dedicated to giving thanks, spending time with loved ones, and indulging in one of the biggest carb-filled, sugary, fattening feasts known to mankind. The average American eats 3000 calories every Thanksgiving – and that’s just during dinner! Add in appetizers, drinks and sweets, and you could be looking at 4500 calories consumed over the span of 3-6 hours. Thanksgiving often marks the start of the “food holiday” season, where many succumb to tasty temptations and put their health on hold until the new year. Treating yourself to your favorite side or a special dessert won’t cause any harm, but neglecting to prioritize eating healthy on Thanksgiving could put your diet goals in a tailspin for the rest of the season.
Get Up and Go
Let’s be realistic – Thanksgiving is a long day. Between prepping the meal, straightening up the house and spending family time watching parades on TV, it’s easy to lull yourself into the “I have no time to exercise” trap. However, making time to exercise could be your ticket to curbing your cravings once the festivities begin. Starting your day anticipating the customary food coma will make you far more likely to gorge yourself later on, but waking up and going on a 30 minute jog will keep you focused on eating healthy and maintaining your goals as the day progresses.
Along with keeping you in a health conscious mindset, working out before a Thanksgiving feast can actually suppress your appetite. A study by the American Physiological Society determined exercise stimulates peptide YY, which makes you feel full, while suppressing the hormone ghrelin, which initiates feelings of hunger. These feelings of fullness only last for about an hour after working out, so make it a new Thanksgiving tradition to take the whole family out for a brisk walk just before dinner is served.
Cut Out Liquid Calories
Eating healthy on Thanksgiving starts with drinking healthy, too! Your drink of choice often sets the tone for the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner, but beneath the glitz and festivity of eggnog, ciders and holiday cocktails lies copious amounts of sugar and unwanted calories.
Make water your go-to drink of the evening for several reasons, the most obvious being that water has zero calories. If you were to trade out two 8 oz. eggnogs for two 8 oz. glasses of water, you’d be saving yourself nearly 700 calories! Additionally, water keeps the body hydrated which leaves you feeling fuller, longer. Alcohol and sugary drinks are dehydrating in nature, and the hunger pangs you might be feeling after drinks are served might actually just be thirst. Before you help yourself to seconds (or thirds) this Thanksgiving, see if a glass of water is what your body is truly craving.
Gobble Up Some Greens
Between brown turkey, red baked apples and orange sweet potatoes, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner spread has a very distinct color palette. If you’re striving to be health conscious this Thanksgiving, you should be seeing green…green vegetables, that is! Green vegetable side dishes make the perfect addition to any Thanksgiving feast because they’re low in calories, high in fiber and rich in nutrients.
For those concerned about heart health, consider adding green bean salad to your holiday menu. Green beans are loaded with flavonoids, an antioxidant whose anti-inflammatory properties protect against cardiovascular disease. A helping of vitamin D rich steamed broccoli helps to detoxify the body, removing free radicals and toxins from the blood stream. Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are full of folic acid, which stabilizes insulin levels to prevent fat storage in the abdomen. Try to avoid adding any unnecessary “filler” ingredients to your dishes, such as butter, cheese, sugar, or oil. These hidden calorie boosters might be small, but they add up fast and detract from the nutritional value of your vegetables.
Think in Thirds
A plate full of buttery mashed potatoes, savory stuffing and sweet pumpkin pie sounds delightful, but it’s not going to help you stick to your goal of eating healthy for Thanksgiving! Maintaining a proportional amount of each type of food at your Thanksgiving feast is key to keeping your diet goals in check, and the best way to hold yourself accountable for your portion control is to think in thirds.
Portion out your plate into three equal sections: one for meats, one for starches, and one for non-starches. Keep these serving suggestions in mind as you’re perusing your family’s Thanksgiving spread:
- Meats: Strive for 4-6 oz. of lean white meats, such as chicken, duck, and of course, turkey. Vegans and vegetarians at the dinner table should fill this portion of their plate with protein-rich foods such as portobello mushrooms or quinoa.
- Starches: This section includes starchy sides such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pasta salad, stuffing and casseroles.
- Non-Starches: Fill up this portion of your plate with all of the hearty green veggies mentioned above, as well as cauliflower and carrots. Thanksgiving classics such as baked apples and fruit salads can be included in this section as well, as long as they are not prepared as a dessert.
Eating Healthy on Thanksgiving
Just because you’ve committed to eating healthy on Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holiday! Keeping your health goals in mind, holding yourself accountable, and making slight adjustments to your dinner plate is all it takes to survive the holiday of indulgence. If keeping your diet on track is a concern for you this Thanksgiving, consult with a functional medicine doctor who can work with you to determine a holiday meal plan that is both nutritious and delicious – you’ll be thankful you did when you avoid the dreaded food coma!
Dr. Lorraine Maita is a recognized and award-winning holistic, functional, and anti-aging physician and author. She transforms people’s lives by getting to the root cause of illness using the best of science and nature. Her approach is personalized, precision medicine where you are treated as the unique individual you are. If you’re ready to start your journey to a healthier, happier life, schedule your visit today!