It’s almost turkey time (or Tofurkey time if that’s how you roll). So what’s your plan for Thanksgiving? Same old, same old – eat, cook, eat, sit, eat, sit, sleep? Or is this the year you yield your turkey-eating trophy in favour of feeling free of fullness and lethargy.
We’ve all been there before – we show up to Thanksgiving dinner like we’re going into battle. Our uniforms are elastic waist pants and loose tops. Armed with utensils, we attack our dinner as if it was our last. But it’s time for a cease-fire. Overeating on the big day doesn’t need to be inevitable. With a few fresh ideas you can transform your typical Turkey Day feast into a truly gratifying experience.
Start your day with a protein- and fibre-packed breakfast to prevent cravings later in the day. On that note: make sure you eat breakfast and lunch. People often try to bank calories by avoiding food until the feasting begins. But this typically backfires and leads people to overeat to the point of discomfort later in the day. Another trick, consider moving your meal to earlier in the day. The sooner you eat dinner, the less time there is for snacking on high calorie appetizers and more time to be active later in the day.
Know your enemy
Think about the festive foods you’re really craving and which you could do without. Then, review your recipes to look for simple ingredient swaps to slim down your favourites. Fat takes longer to digest, which is largely to blame for the pain, bloating and belching that many of us feel hours after Thanksgiving dinner. So try using skim milk and chicken stock in mashed potatoes instead of cream and butter. Skip high fat extras like whipped topping and casseroles made with high fat cream soups, and try new lighter recipes. My personal fave, swap out your green bean casserole and marshmallow sweet potatoes for roasted vegetables that are packed with heart healthy oils and antioxidants. Don’t forget, food doesn’t need to be decadent to be festive. For example, not only are these Thanksgiving Turkey Peppers from superhealthykids.com chock-full of fibre and nutrients, they’re a huge hit with both kids and adults!
Stick to the plan
Rich food isn’t the only thing to blame for the post-meal moaning and groaning; it’s also the sheer volume we consume that leads us to lay down our arms. But don’t surrender just yet; the most powerful ammo you can bring to this battle is right at your fingertips: the healthy plate method. It’s simple: First, set the table with smaller plates (you know, the size your grandma uses). Then start by filling half of the plate with vegetables, then ¼ of the plate with your protein of choice, and ¼ of your plate with your starch. It may seem too good to be true, but I assure you it works—and will ensure a balanced meal in all the right portions.
Stay mentally sharp
Ever wonder why, despite your good intentions, you still end up eating yourself sick year after year? The secret agent at work here: appetite. Our bodies are built with a natural stopping point, but our better sense is easily overpowered by our appetite. Appetite is stimulated by our emotions, nostalgia and the sight, smell and thought of food. And when appetite is at the table, mindless eating is guaranteed to pull up a chair. So how do you combat mindless eating? With it’s noble adversary mindful eating. Eating with intention and attention allows you to honour your food and engage all your senses to savour each morsel. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full so take small bites, chew well, and listen to your body when it is telling you it has had enough.
Be ready to move
Time to round up the troops for some physical activity (No, lifting your fork does not count as a bicep curl). You could start your day with a family-friendly 5km Turkey Trot or organize a game of touch football in a nearby park. Or take a pre-dessert walk around the neighbourhood. Research has found that a brisk 15-minute walk can decrease cravings for high-calorie sweets, which may help you keep dessert portions in check (1). It can also help with digestion, normalizing your blood sugars and staving off the dreaded food coma. Oh, and plus it just makes you feel good!
Don’t lose sight of the goal
If you’ve been working hard to make healthy changes to your food habits, Thanksgiving can seem like a battle between the holiday and your health. Look, as a Dietitian, the last thing I want is to take the joy out of turkey day. Don’t become so fixated on calories that you prevent yourself from enjoying the meal. Think about it this way, if you live to 65, you will have eaten over 60, 000 meals. Some healthy, some not. The goal isn’t to be perfect; it’s to be consistent. So try out these tips, put MyFitnessPal away for the day and remember what Thanksgiving is all about: a day to to celebrate and give thanks for the abundance of food, family and friends and for all of the blessings over the past year.
1) Ledochowski, L., Ruedl, G., Taylor, A.H., Kopp, M. (2015). Acute Effects of Brisk Walking on Sugary Snack Cravings in Overweight People, Affect and Responses to a Manipulated Stress Situation and to a Sugary Snack Cue: A Crossover Study. PLoS ONE; 10(3): e0119278. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119278