Thanksgiving is this week. You ready?
I feel like people generally feel one of the following emotions going into Thanksgiving: stress, dread, complete excitement, or a weird combination of all of that. There are a lot of different factors that can make Thanksgiving… tricky. Especially if you have a complicated relationship with food, which most of the population does, if we’re being honest. That in addition to the nagging questions from your grandparents about why you don’t have a boyfriend can make the day a total drag.
Because Thanksgiving can be an emotional day on numerous levels, it can also become an unhealthy day. But it doesn’t have to be. Some people take the approach of, “Oh, it’s Thanksgiving, so I’m going CRAZY.” Giving yourself permission to eat everything in sight, get drunk, and sit on the couch all night long will only make you feel like complete shit the next day. We don’t want that. You can enjoy Thanksgiving, have a great time, and eat a lot of great food without putting yourself out of commission for an entire week afterward or feeling guilty for indulging. So in case you’re wondering what my personal approach is to having a healthy Thanksgiving, here ya go.
Let’s start with the morning. The first mistake most people make on Thanksgiving is not eating breakfast or lunch because they’re “saving space for dinner.” Ok. No. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Unless you’re someone who practices intermittent fasting on a regular basis, do not skip breakfast. Try to treat Thanksgiving like any other day. Make yourself a healthy breakfast and, depending on what time you celebrate Thanksgiving, a healthy lunch. Otherwise, you are probably going to binge and eat waaaaay too much at Thanksgiving dinner. Then you’ll feel like crap.
The second thing I like to do on Thanksgiving Day is something active. I either do a regular workout like I would on any other Thursday, or I make sure to go on a walk after breakfast with someone in my family. Starting your day off in an active way will make your body and mind feel better, and you’ll remember that later when you have mountains of food in front of you. A lot of families do the Turkey Trot half-marathon together every Thanksgiving, and I think that’s a great tradition! You definitely don’t have to do anything that intense, but it’s a great idea to plan on doing something active that morning to start your day off in a positive way. A family walk is a great option.
Another big one – make sure you drink plenty of water on Thanksgiving. It’s easy to forget about water when you have a million things going on and a ton of people around you, but force yourself to carry a water bottle with you. That will also prevent you from mindlessly snacking all day in case you’re actually thirsty instead of hungry – because we all know there’s going to be a lot of food around you.
Other quick tip – wear a dress. You’ll look cute, and you’ll be able to properly accommodate the food baby that will most likely develop later on that night. No shame.
If you’re going somewhere other than your own home for dinner and dessert, bring your own food to contribute. Unless you’re literally a baby (which you’re not if you’re reading this), you always have control over what you eat. Bring a healthy side or two and a dessert if you can. That way you’ll know there will be healthy options at dinnertime, you’ll know exactly what ingredients are being used, and you’ll be the best guest ever by contributing food. Bringing your own dishes is especially important if you have food allergies and intolerances. For example, bringing a healthy dessert is always my #1 priority because I want to make sure I can eat some pie along with everyone else and not feel like the oddball out. The rest of my family just looooves gluten, dairy, soy, and all of the other things. If you need ideas for healthy Thanksgiving dishes, check out my Thanksgiving recipe roundup!
Let’s talk about the actual dinner. In my family, we go buffet style. There’s a lot of food, and a lot of choices. My plan of attack is always to grab some turkey (gotta elbow my way into that dark meat…), lots of roasted veggies, and some sweet potato casserole (my true love). After you’ve either filled up most of your plate with protein and vegetables OR after you’ve eaten one round of protein and vegetables, then feel free to add some of the “less healthy” options. The point of this is to make sure you’re not eating an entire plateful of cornbread, NOT to not have it at all.
I want to reiterate that. Unless food allergies are the problem, if there’s something on the table you really want to eat, EAT IT. Just don’t get out of control with your servings. It’s Thanksgiving, and you should celebrate the day by eating yummy foods whether or not they’re “unhealthy.” Balance, guys. It’s honestly much unhealthier to restrict what you’re eating and drive yourself insane because you want the damn gravy than to just eat the gravy. EAT THE GRAVY. Have a glass of wine or two. It’s a holiday! The point is that you can have some of everything that you want. Don’t restrict yourself.
There’s another very important thing that half of you will roll your eyes at. Eat mindfully. Of all days, do it on Thanksgiving. Trust me, I’m not the kind of person who sits down at every single meal with her eyes closed and has a life-changing spiritual experience. But as you’re eating your food, think about it. Think about how yummy it is, how lucky you are to be able to eat it, how incredible it is that you are surrounded by such amazing people, and how much else you have to be grateful for. Think about the flavors and the textures of what you’re chewing. Just really taste it, in more than just the literal sense.
Back to staying active. Plan on going for a walk after dinner. I know everyone likes to think of Thanksgiving as a day when they can eat as much as they want and just YOLO it, but let’s not get too out of control. I’m going to eat a lot on Thanksgiving, but I’m not going to eat so much that I physically cannot walk. It’s easy for people to binge on Thanksgiving, but then they feel sick the next day. I’m all about having a food baby, but I’m also all about still being able to function after my meal. Basically, EAT. But make sure you can still stand up and walk afterwards. That is not an unrealistic goal.
When it comes to dessert, same rules apply. Unless you really hate sweets for some reason, don’t be that person who doesn’t eat dessert. Like, come on. It’s Thanksgiving. This is why you bring a dessert you’re excited to eat. A huge part of Thanksgiving is the community vibe – being with family and friends and celebrating what we have. In our culture, food is an important part of that, whether we like it or not. Also, sitting there not eating dessert for the sake of “being healthy” is just going to make you feel left out, and it’s not healthy anyways. There is definitely a place for dessert in a healthy diet, ESPECIALLY on a holiday.
On the other side of the spectrum, you don’t need to eat two whole pies by yourself. If you feel that urge, you probably either didn’t eat enough regular food at dinner (grab some more turkey!), or there’s a larger issue at play…like regularly restricting yourself from eating dessert and then going all out because it’s a holiday. Either way, those separate issues need to be addressed. Have a slice. Have two. CELEBRATE! But this is where the “I’m going to walk around the block after din tonight” mindset helps out. If you feel like that will be impossible, slow down.
Last, but not least, let’s address the social aspect of the holiday, because that’s another huge part of having a healthy Thanksgiving. Maybe this applies to you, maybe not. Family dynamics can be…interesting. I’ll keep this as succinct as possible. If someone asks you a question that makes you feel irritated or frustrated, just try to answer as politely as possible and move somewhere else in the room. Sit next to someone who you actually want to talk to. If someone makes a nasty comment, take a second to realize that that’s their shit. Not yours. Other people project. People get catty and jealous. Sometimes people just don’t understand. All we can do is take a breath and move on. Try to find the humor in it. Sometimes I’ll mentally take a step back from all of the commotion going on around me and try to envision the situation as if I were watching it on TV. Maybe Grandma insulting me didn’t seem funny right when it happened, but thinking about it a few minutes later from a different perspective might just make me chuckle.
I think the healthiest way to end Thanksgiving is with exactly that – giving thanks. Wish your friends a happy Thanksgiving, tell your loved ones how much they mean to you, and thank yourself for everything you’ve given yourself. Because no matter where you are right now in life, you’ve worked hard to get there. You deserve some props for that. In my opinion, being grateful is by far one of the most important emotions we can embrace. It can completely shift your mindset and make every day much better than the last.
I hope you all have a beautiful wonderful spectacular Thanksgiving! And in case you’re wondering, I am very very very thankful for YOU.
P.S. Send me Snaps of your meals so I can drool 😉