Because this holiday can present a smorgasbord of food, I prepared several do's and don'ts for Thanksgiving (or any eating-centered holiday/event) to help prepare you for a feel-good day as well as keep you on track in developing a healthy relationship with food.
In no particular order....
-DO eat breakfast. Rather than going for the daily bowl of oatmeal, cereal, toast or bagel, think protein. Egg white omelet, whey protein shake, yogurt, cottage cheese or lean/veggie meat. Although turkey at your t-day dinner is high in protein, there is an abundance of carbs on Thanksgiving. If you are choosing to do a turkey trot or some type of morning exercise (which I highly recommend!), eat your normal pre-training snack and finish your workout with a balanced, protein-rich breakfast. Certainly, starting off your day with fluctuating blood sugar levels and feeling extremely starved when your thanksgiving meal is no way for an athletic individual to set the day for a balanced day of eating.
-Do not go long hours without eating. Again, stick to foods which will stabilize your blood sugar and will not digest too quickly. Because you should enjoy some sweet treats at your t-day meal, opt for slow digesting snacks including tuna/deli meat, cottage cheese, string cheese, nuts, PB, carrots, celery, cucumbers, apples, pears, yogurt or egg (ex. hard boiled). Stick with real-food snacks around 100-200 calories, every 2-3 hours.
-Do not go into the thanksgiving meal starving. Hungry, yes. Starving, no. Go for a small snack of your slow digesting foods around 1 hour to 45 minutes before the meal. In order to pass on a large quantity of heavy appetizers, which can add 500+ extra calories to your daily diet (before the meal is even served) choose nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and veggies, either before or with your favorite appetizers. Although I do not suggest water-replacements on a daily basis, a good choice around an hour before the meal could be a carbonated beverage such as a flavored water or seltzer. Even a 12 ounce diet soda will help to curb any cravings you are feeling as you are anxiously awaiting the meal. Certainly, you don't want to "save" calories by drinking diet drinks all day but by snacking throughout the day, eating breakfast and focusing on nutrient-rich foods, you will find that if your meal is in the afternoon (ex. around 2 or 3) or in the late afternoon (4 or 5), a few sips of your carbonated beverage will keep your tummy from feeling empty. Again, I am not an advocate of carbonated or "diet" drinks (water is my drink of choice, alongside coffee in the morning) in order to control calories.
-Do not worry about weight loss/maintenance goals. It's Thanksgiving, and you only have this ONE day to enjoy a variety of foods you normally wouldn't prepare. Humm...perhaps the portions may be a bit bigger and you may have more options, but 500-1000 extra calories for one day is no big deal. You may feel a bit full compared to other days but don't let a few hundred extra calories (especially if some of your options are heart-healthy) on one day is nothing to sweat about. However, giving yourself the excuse that you can eat however much you want (to a feeling of being uncomfortable full) will only leave you feeling extremely full after the meal and perhaps doubting your ability to lose or maintain weight throughout the rest of the year. Stay focused with your portions and try to overestimate your calories for each serving that you put on your plate. You'd be surprised that you could easily eat 1000 calories at one meal from just 3 oversized portions of the green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole and a piece of pie. Try to choose a little of everything and remember that leftovers are just as good as food on Thanksgiving day. Save room for dessert and pass on second portions.
-Do use a strategy when serving yourself. I highly recommend serving yourself so that you can choose what and how much you want to eat. When it comes to platting food, use big plates for any type of vegetable or salad. Use that same plate for your protein choices as well. Use smaller plates or cups for deserts and calorie-dense side dishes. Let your brain think you are eating large portions by using one plate for your meal with 70% of the plate for the turkey, greens and veggies and then 30% of a little of whatever you want to make up the rest of the plate.
-Do exercise on Thurs morning..friday morning, sat morning and sunday morning. See this day just like any other day. You don't have to train, but I highly recommend staying active and/or exercising. Although your table may have a few more table settings and the fridge may be packed with food, use those extra calories. Although you may say to yourself "I need to burn those extra calories" rephrase that sentence by telling yourself that this is a great time to use your fuel! Remember, it is likely the off-season for you (if you are an athlete) so you don't have to train. But it is perfectly acceptable to implement a little "fat burning" aerobic exercise by working out/exercising (or be active) for hour or for a few hours in order to get in a good sweat and enjoy your well-fueled body.
-Do plan workouts for after Thanksgiving. Plan ahead (like today) and tell yourself that you will do something active on Friday morning. You can sleep in or go early-bird shopping and still go for a walk, bike ride, swim or run Friday. Or, get up before your family and go for a ride on your trainer or walk/run on your treadmill. Ever eat too much on the night before a race, sleep horribly the night before a race and then wake up on race day morning regretting that you had too much to eat? Thanksgiving is kinda like that. It's really easy to feel great when you are eating but when the meal is over, you still want to be motivated to exercise your heart, lungs and brain on the days that follow. If you know ahead of time that you will exercise on Friday morning, you will be less likely to eat until you are stuffed and will find yourself eating until you feel satisfied. Remember, walking counts as physical activity and can be a great "exercise" for the whole family.
-Do not think all is ruined because of one day/meal. Maybe you didn't lose the weight you wanted to this past season/year. Maybe you are "feeling" a bit heavy (I don't like the word fat) at the moment. Maybe you are dreading all those "unhealthy" foods that are going to presented to you at your meal. Although this is Thanksgiving, this is just another day...out of 365 days in a year. You can still use the wisdom, knowledge and education that you have acquired to make good choices on Thanksgiving and the days, weeks and months that follow.
-Do have a go-to food. This is something I believe in for all events and functions. If you are holding Thanksgiving at your home, it is easy to plan what you will prepare, what you will eat and how much food you have to choose from. However, when attending Thanksgiving at a neighbors house, family members house or at a friend of a friend's house, it may seem stressful to maintain your daily healthy eating plan if nothing healthy is available. And believe me, it is likely that if you are eating with others, it is likely that there is a chance that some foods will be soaked in oil, fat or butter and there may be a chance that if eating with people who don't support your heart-healthy ways, there will be very few heart-healthy choices. No matter where you go for Thanksgiving (or an event) bring a go-to food/side item for you to feel good about. Maybe you choose to make your own healthy version of a sweet potato or green bean casserole or maybe you want to bring your own steamed veggies or a bowl of fruit. Regardless of whatever you bring, you will have something to look forward to when platting your plate with a variety of foods.
-Do give thanks. I know it sounds cliche but it is a great holiday to give thanks to the people in your life who support you, encourage you, motivate you and inspire you. Certainly, we all have people around us that we should probably thank more than just one day a year. Specifically to all the friends and family of marathoners, half ironman and ironman athletes out there....LOTS of thanks to those who put up with us alongside our long training days and semi-bonk training sessions. Rather than thinking about all the food you will eat, take the time to email, call or visit those who have played an important part in your life.