11 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving

Are you worried that Thanksgiving marks the start of an unhealthy month (or two)? Are you determined to make it different this year?  We’ve got some tips. While you might have heard some of these before, a reminder can only serve to help, don’t you think?A  Sometimes it takes a while before it actually clicks.

But this year we’re offering up some new tips that you might not have run across before, like things you thought you couldn’t eat but can/should.

Here’s a short list to help you have a healthy Thanksgiving.

1. Eat breakfast. 

You might be tempted to save up all the calories for the “big meal,” but that usually backfires because you end up with an “I deserve it” mentality, which often leads to overdoing it. Instead, start your day with a filling, but healthy, breakfast like a bowl of hot oatmeal or whole-grain cereal or an egg-white omelet filled with vegetables and sprinkled with a little low-fat cheese. Most important: don’t show up for Thanksgiving hungry!

2. Be active.

 Most gyms are open Thanksgiving Day (at least, part of the day) and feature fun workouts. Working out early will not only give you the energy to get through a busy day, but it will lift your mood and rev up your metabolism. If you can’t get to a gym, try taking a walk. And there’s no shame in grabbing some of your Thanksgiving guests and insisting you walk off your turkey after dinner, either.

3. Eat whatever you want.

 Just eat less of it. There’s nothing worse than regretting never having tasted that homemade apple crisp that smells so good or not trying the pumpkin pie that you look forward to all year. Saying no to foods you love and won’t likely see for another year will only make you feel deprived and frustrated. Instead, have a plan: tell yourself that you will let yourself eat whatever you want, but that you’ll put just a small amount of that something(s) on your plate and not take seconds.

By the way, go for a bit of chocolate, preferably the dark stuff. A German study that reported on chocolate’s health benefits also found that you need only consume about six grams a day about the equivalent of one square of a chocolate bar ”to reap the benefits, which include lowered blood pressure.

1. Help out. 

Obviously, if it’s your house, that’s a given. But if you’re a guest this year, helping to clear the table and wash or dry some dishes will not only keep you from sitting too much, it’ll keep you from lingering at the table and picking at the leftover food.

2. Bring something. 

Yes, that’s a given, too: you’re unlikely to show up empty-handed. But here’s your opportunity to prepare a healthy dish in the event your host favors a heavy hand in the cooking department. For instance, bring your own version of sweet potatoes. Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa suggests baking yams in foil at 400 until the syrupy juice starts to seep out (usually about an hour), peeling and slicing them, then layering them with some pineapple slices and a bit of cinnamon.

3. Snack on some nuts.

 While there’s no guarantee your host will have them, consider bringing a nice assortment for before or after the meal. A new study has found that adults who ate a small handful of nuts (about a one-ounce serving) seven or more times a week were less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than those who didn’t eat nuts. Regularly eating nuts also reduced mortality risk for heart and respiratory disease and cancer.

4. Scope out the spread.

 Nutrition expert Kerri Glassman and cofounder of MommyCoach offers a good suggestion to people going to parties: Rather than jumping right in and filling your plate with all the goodies set out before you, take your time. Studies show that people eat more when they’re offered a greater variety of foods, she says. “By taking a tour of all the food first, you won’t fall into this trap,” says Glassman. This way, you can look at everything and decide what’s healthiest and what to put on your plate.

5. Fit in your vegetables (and fruits).

Thanksgiving plates tend to lack the healthy, vibrant colors that represent the phytonutrients and antioxidants our bodies need. So, do your best to fit in some vegetables this year. Serve a green bean casserole (with fresh green beans!) or a Brussels sprout dish (this is a delicious holiday side dish!). Offer a simple side salad to get greens on the plate. Sneak some celery, apples, leeks, carrots, or cranberries into your stuffing. Offer baked whole apples sprinkled with cinnamon as a dessert option. You may even consider a baked sweet potato – you will save up to 400 calories and 60 grams of sugar by enjoying it instead of a helping of sweet potato casserole!

6. Divide your plate into thirds. 

 This is my favorite Thanksgiving tip!  I recommend filling 1/3 of your plate with turkey, 1/3 with vegetables and fruits, and 1/3 with other choices, which tend to be the carbohydrate-heavy options. This way, you get to enjoy a bit of everything without feeling deprived, but you maintain balance. It’s a lot harder to overdo the sweet potato casserole and the stuffing and the mashed potatoes if they all have to fit onto 1/3 of your plate!  I found the below picture online (here) … it does a great job of following this rule!

7. Alternate water with alcoholic drinks. 

If you start cooking (or watching football) early in the day, and the alcoholic drinks keep flowing until long after the last bit of pie has been swept from the table, you’re likely getting in more calories from alcohol than you realize. I recommend alternating each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated (which will improve digestion and keep you from feeling lethargic), but it may also slow down your alcohol intake, which is a good thing.

8. Choose your dessert wisely.

 By the time dessert rolls around, many people feel so stuffed that they don’t really even want the Thanksgiving dessert. Still, because it only comes around once per year, they make room for several slices of pie, just because “they can.” I recommend choosing only one dessert option to keep your overall consumption in check. Choose dessert wisely: choosing pumpkin pie over pecan pie can save around 200 calories (and add in many nutrients).

9. Get moving!

 Exercise is a great way to spend time with family while getting your heart pumping before the feast. Whether you run a local Turkey Trot, go for a walk around the neighborhood, hit the gym, or create a mini bootcamp for your family members, you will certainly feel better if you fit in some movement before settling down to dinner.

10. Don’t throw in the towel on the entire season.

 If Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t end up to be the perfect picture of health, just move on! After all, it is only one meal. However, many people adopt the attitude that “I wasn’t healthy yesterday, I might as well just wait until New Year’s to start over,” and this is what causes the damage. Instead, wake up the next morning and treat it as a brand new start. Recommit to your health goals, and do whatever you can to make that day a great one. One day of indulgence is not that consequential, but several weeks in a row of less-than-healthy behaviors do add up!

11. Be grateful. 

The whole point of Thanksgiving is to enjoy an indulgent and filling meal … right? (No!) So often, we forget the reason for the holiday, and forget to express our gratitude in a flurry of prepping, cooking, and watching football. Studies show that practicing gratitude can increase your happiness by 25%, so if you want to enjoy the day even more, make a list of a few things that make you smile! Happy Thanksgiving!

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