By Hayley Cunningham
Thanksgiving is like communism — it’s a pretty good idea in theory, but when put into practice, things never go as planned. While a holiday about giving thanks and appreciating your friends and family sounds wonderful, the day itself generally has little to do with being thankful and often reminds us why there are some members of our family we only see once each year. In reality, Thanksgiving can be about preparatory meltdowns (or staying out of the line of fire), stuffing your face with food, feeling sick and guilty about stuffing your face with food, and then fighting over discounted electronics.
While I cannot fix your family or our consumerist society, I hope this column will help you make your Thanksgiving a bit healthier. The first and most important thing I want to say, though, is that everything (well, almost everything) is best in moderation, and that includes moderation. For many of us, this is the only day of the year to eat Grandma’s mashed potatoes, Auntie’s famous pie, or Dad’s pigs-in-a-blanket. Rolls, casseroles, ham, butter, sugar, carbs, fat — I’m telling you to enjoy it. If getting so full you can’t stand up straight isn’t pleasurable for you, then stop before it gets to that point, but don’t designate any food as off limits.
It is possible to enjoy yourself this Thanksgiving and do it in a healthy way. Here’s how:
- Don’t skip breakfast. It’s important to eat something high in protein and fiber early in the day to kick-start your metabolism and keep you from ravenously sucking down food when dinner rolls around.
- Try not to snack aimlessly all day. Chewing strong minty gum can help ward off the temptation.
- Work in some exercise before or after the big meal — this will get your metabolism whirling, help you feel better about eating large quantities of food, and aid in digestion. Taking a walk after the meal will help get rid of that full, bloated feeling, give you energy to finish the day strong (i.e. ward off a food coma), and also help you rest more soundly that night.
- Try to keep things in perspective, and stay out of the way of those who can’t. Tensions can run high, and it will be best for all involved if you can keep your cool. Play with your little cousins or go for a walk outside. You can also try jotting down everything you have to be thankful for or writing cards to the people you are thankful to have in your life. Steering clear of the chaos that can arise during food preparation by serving in a soup kitchen or doing another form of volunteer work is also a good option.
- When it is finally time to eat, choose a salad plate instead of a dinner plate if you can. Because we generally want to fill our entire plate, the larger it is, the more likely we are to eat more food without noticing.
- Take a lap — walk around and survey all the food that is available before you start serving yourself. This way you can save room on your plate (and in your stomach) for those foods you really want to eat.
- You’ve probably seen the “My Plate” diagram that has come to replace the food pyramid — use that as a guideline. Fill half your plate with veggies and fruits, one fourth with grains or starches, and the final fourth with a protein source.
- Some of my favorite healthful, Thanksgiving-esque foods include roasted root veggies, fall salads, and turkey breast. Fill up on dishes with fiber, protein, and nutrients and garnish your plate with the really good stuff — for me that means mashed potatoes, yeast rolls, and Kentucky derby pie with ice cream.
- If you know ahead of time that there probably won’t be many healthy options, make something to add to the selection. Many notoriously unhealthy dishes can also be made a bit lighter with some quick substitutions. Google is an amazing tool for finding healthy recipes — just type in “healthy ______ recipe” and search away!
- It’s okay to go back for more. But once you’ve finished one plate, try to wait twenty minutes so that your brain has time to get the message from your stomach whether or not you’re full. Also be sure to drink plenty of water — it’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger, and many of the foods you’ll eat today are high in sodium, which will make you thirsty.
- Don’t freak out if you overeat. This is just one day, and you’re not going to gain weight because of it. You may feel a bit bloated, but that will be because of all the salty foods. Drink plenty of water, get some exercise, and eat lots of fiber over the next few days, and you’ll be feeling and looking great in no time!
- Watch out for those leftovers, though — with heavier foods, try to eat only a little at a time.
While Thanksgiving Day won’t have any lasting effects on your body, Thanksgiving Week might. Eat smaller portions, and you’ll be able to enjoy the deliciousness even longer. If you find you are having trouble pacing yourself with leftovers, try fixing your plate and then putting the rest away before you begin eating. If you’re really hungry once you’ve finished eating what you put on your plate, you’ll make the extra effort to get everything out of the fridge again. If you’re not, you’ve saved yourself from eating something you don’t really need.
I hope this has given you some ideas as to how you can make your Thanksgiving a little healthier and help you avoid excess stress, sickness, and/or guilt. But remember, Thanksgiving is a special day, and you should eat what you want to. Don’t deny yourself anything; simply enjoy the food in a healthier way — try not to stress, get some exercise, make sure some of the food you eat is healthy, and pace yourself. Then give thanks that you have a functioning mind to stress about things, a body that can do what it does, and plenty of food to eat. I’m sure you can think of some other things to be thankful for, too, so take the time to remember how lucky you are. And then try not to trample anyone when you rush into a department store afterwards.