There’s a lot to love about Thanksgiving, from the focus on gratitude to the table filled with good things to eat. But what’s not so delightful is the bloated, stuffed, hard-to-move feeling that often comes after that enormous Thanksgiving meal. While it’s true that Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around food, it’s also true that you can make the most of this holiday by thinking ahead of time about what you’ll be eating and how. Wondering how you can enjoy the holiday while also keeping your body feeling good? Looking for some strategies to protect your health while you take part in the festivities? Here are some specific, easy health tips for helping you survive this year’s dinner without feeling like you’ll pass out when it’s done.
To make healthy choices this Thanksgiving, follow these tips:
If you’re the one preparing dinner, try to focus on whole foods. Generally speaking, you’ll do better to make your own cranberry sauce than to buy the processed stuff found in the can, at least in terms of health benefits. If you do need to purchase premade foods for your holiday spread, take time to evaluate the ingredients lists and nutritional information, selecting products you can feel good about eating.
Candied yams might be a normal part of the Thanksgiving meal, but all that margarine, sugar and marshmallows aren’t doing anybody any favors. You might be surprised to learn that baked sweet potatoes can be incredibly sweet and delicious on their own — and you can always have toppings like butter or sweetener on the side for anyone who wants them.
If you’re one of the people who likes to skip breakfast and lunch on the day of Thanksgiving so you can eat more at dinner, rethink that strategy. By fasting all day, you set yourself up to be starving at the table, which makes you more likely to overeat. Try instead to eat normal meals on the holiday, so you can eat a normal-sized dinner when the Thanksgiving table is spread.
Sure, it’s tempting to gorge yourself on all the delicious foods spread out before you, but try to remember to pace yourself. Chew your food slowly and savor your bites so that it’s easier for your body to tell you you’re full. Then, once you’re full, stop eating — there will be leftovers for later.
Most holiday tables will have healthier, lighter options like salads, vegetables and white turkey meat, right alongside heavy rolls and marshmallow-packed Jell-O® molds. Start your meal with salad if possible and go heavy on the greens. Then, for the rest of your meal, try to focus on the healthier options when you’re filling your plate. This helps you stay on your path to wellness while also helping you feel good with easier-to-digest choices.
Part of the problem with the Thanksgiving meal is that you get so much of so many things all at once. While piling your plate high with food may be tradition, it isn’t the smartest choice for your body. Stick to small portions. A little of everything is a better strategy than giant helpings of rich, fatty or sugar-loaded foods.
For many Americans, the holidays are the hardest times to make healthy choices — starting with Thanksgiving dinner. So start this season right by preparing ahead for the plentiful food and temptation to overindulge that comes with Thanksgiving. By following the strategies above, you can enjoy time with loved ones, eat a good meal and still feel good at the end of the day.
Bonnie is a Certified Health Counselor and received her certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition at Columbia University. She works at Natural Horizons Wellness Centers where she focuses on oral health, weight loss, and pain management.