Thanksgiving is a time to get together with family and friends to celebrate. It is one of the most popular holidays in the US and it is known for one other thing, a feast complete with a turkey. That strikes fear in the hearts of people like us who are very thoughtful about eating healthy and monitoring what we eat.
Why? Americans tend to overindulge when it comes to any holiday meal but Thanksgiving is certainly right up at the top. The average American eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal will consume anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 calories. That’s easily enough food for 2 or even 3 days if you look at the numbers alone. One day of eating will not cause major weight gain alone, True! The issue is mindset. If you give yourself excuse after excuse to eat whatever you want, it can become a habit. Think of how many days per year you take your eating habits back to step one.
- I can eat what I want because it’s my birthday.
- It’s a holiday, so it’s ok.
- It’s a special occasion, so it’s ok.
- Oh, it’s just one piece of cake.
- I’m having a night out with the girls. I’ll work it off tomorrow.
Also, many of us know that we will be off track not just for Thanksgiving Day, but for the following 2-3 days of leftovers as well as any Pre-Thanksgiving celebrations and food at work.
Some people, even the die-hard health buffs, tend to use holidays as a skip day without much of an issue. Others chose to use moderation. If you choose to stick to a strict diet during holidays, more power to you. Each individual has to know their limits. For those of you who love the traditional Thanksgiving meal with family but are worried about gaining a few extra pounds and are trying to figure out what to do, take heed of the following tips.
- Don’t Skip Breakfast or Lunch
This first tip is so ridiculously simple that not many people think of it. Obviously you are much more likely to overeat if you feel starved. When our stomachs are growling we often eat so quickly that our body doesn’t get a chance to tell us “Hey! You’re full!” until we finish our plate or literally have eaten so much we feel bloated.
It is so tempting to skip breakfast in lieu of getting ready or focusing on cooking for your family. This is especially true if you tend to have a lunch-time Thanksgiving meal so the time between waking up and feasting doesn’t seem like a big deal. This is a huge mistake. Rather than skipping breakfast or lunch prior, eat something healthy and filling. If Thanksgiving is an all-day event for you, try and avoid empty calories from sugary treats and sweet pastries.
This one tip will really help you avoid weight gain by preventing you from overindulging from feeling starved and not being able to control yourself due to hunger.
- Tweak the Menu While Still Making Everyone Happy
It seems like there are two worries people have when it comes to changing the Thanksgiving menu to healthier options:
- You’ll feel unsatisfied avoiding traditional dishes. The holiday only comes once a year after all.
- Your family and friends might not be happy with you for the same reason.
This is totally understandable and most people will agree that if you already eat well the rest of the year, indulging on holidays really isn’t a big deal. However, there are ways you can make small changes to the menu that will make the meal healthier without completely skipping those favorite traditional foods.
Here are some ideas:
- If you have a small gathering to feed, buy a turkey breast or two rather than a whole turkey, or if you’re not cooking ask for a slice of turkey breast. White meat is lighter in terms of fat and turkey is naturally lean. If you do prefer a whole turkey at least avoiding deep frying it and let someone else have the drumsticks. Watch the sodium as well.
- Instead of using cheap boxed stuffing mix, make your own with healthy additions. Plain bread stuffing doesn’t offer much nutritional value and is often heavy in salts to make up for lack of taste. For more flavor and nutrition, use whole grains for stuffing (quinoa, for example).
- Mix in veggies when you can. For example, add mashed cauliflower to a ¼ to ½ of your mashed potatoes to cut calories without losing the mashed potato flavor. Most people won’t even realize the potatoes have cauliflower when you only substitute a small portion. Cook it then and then grind the cauliflower up in a food processor till smooth before adding.
- Cut Back on the Alcohol
Many people are totally unaware of just how much calories are in alcohol and how much weight gain it can cause. Limit your alcohol intake and be sure to stay super hydrated with plain water. Try and avoid sugary drinks or at least keep consumption to one drink.
One way to cut back on alcohol is by substituting sparkling water for bubbly beverages like light wines or champagnes. Don’t want to go cold turkey? You can also either have straight liquor in small amounts or use a sugar-free, healthy cocktail mixes if you prefer mixed drinks. Light beers are a good idea as well.
- Avoid the Food Coma by Staying Active
Thanksgiving isn’t at all an active holiday. Like most holiday feasts, it is more about sitting around, eating delicious food and spending time with loved ones. Sitting in a chair at a table, distracted by talking with food laid out in front of you is a dangerous combination. It leads to overeating which in turn causes us to go into a so-called “food coma”. Most anyone knows that feeling. You’ve eaten so much that all you want to do is go from the dining room to the family room and sit on the couch.
Often times the tryptophan in turkey was believed to cause sleepiness and sluggish but studies show this isn’t entirely true. The sluggishness is more from the sheer amount of calorie-rich food than any one food within the meal. Rather than sitting around to digest your meal for the rest of the day, try to stay active on Thanksgiving day. Do a workout early in the morning for starters. Eat a good breakfast like mentioned before and talk a walk with family before the meal to prevent overeating. Afterwards, go for another quick walk just to get your metabolism going.
- Freeze Some Leftovers so You Don’t Feel Rushed to Not Waste Any Food
For some folks the best part about Thanksgiving isn’t the one main feast but actually the few days’ worth of leftovers after. First off, weight gain is pretty inevitable if your calorie-packed Thanksgiving meal is extended for another 3 days. If you’re the one cooking, send a lot of the leftovers home with family or friends. If that isn’t an option then try not to cook as much.
With the leftovers you do have, immediately freeze a portion of it to have for meals at a later date. It is too easy to overeat on leftovers when you feel like you have to finish everything before it goes bad.
If you use common sense and some sneaky tactics, you don’t need to worry about gaining weight during Thanksgiving. Instead, indulge yourself a bit and enjoy the time with your family and friends.
Happy Thanksgiving, to ALL! Enjoy the things you are truly thankful for…friends, family, good healthy, blessings…not just the great food.