Ideas to keep Thanksgiving healthy and happy
Roast the turkey in the oven. The pies are cooling on the counter. And you might be saying to yourself, “Thanksgiving is not the time to be so strict about what I eat.”
Health experts say — you may have a point.
“I don’t want people to think too much about their relationship with food during Thanksgiving, when the holiday is about friends and families and being thankful and counting our blessings,” said Dr. Colleen Spies, associate professor of clinical dietetics at Ohio State University College. Medicine in Columbus.
Holidays tend to highlight “all-or-nothing” attitudes about eating, said Crystal Dunham, a registered dietitian in Tulsa, Oklahoma. People are either “YOLO! It’s the holidays! I’m leaving all the rules!” Or “It’s the holidays, and I don’t touch anything unless it’s celery.”
“And I think there’s a way to be in the middle,” Dunham said.
This middle ground allows for fun, peace of mind and health, she and Space said. And while some people, including those with diet-related medical conditions like diabetes, may need more thoughtful planning, everyone can make simple, healthy last-minute choices that enhance their day.
Among their suggestions:
Don’t skip breakfast
Eating to prevent overeating may seem counterintuitive, but starving yourself in the morning can lead to problems later.
“A lot of people on holidays are used to making room for a big meal,” Dunham said. “But often when we do this, we come to a meal and we are very hungry. So, we end up eating past the point of rest, and feel miserable for the rest of the evening.”
A simple breakfast — a bowl of cereal or oatmeal with some fruit, or granola and low-fat or skim protein-rich yogurt — “helps us make more intentional decisions throughout the day,” she said.
Think ahead about how you will eat…
Most of us know what to expect from our family’s traditional meals, Spiess said. So have a plan to overcome obstacles. Imagine filling your plate with whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables, as recommended by the American Heart Association and the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Dunham said the basics of healthy eating are the same no matter the day. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are full of fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar and has other heart-healthy properties. “And fiber usually helps us feel full a little longer,” she added.
Alcohol can be one of the biggest holiday challenges for adults, Spiess said. Once people start drinking, “their inhibitions go out the door, often accompanied by healthy behaviors.”
If drinking is usually part of your holiday celebration, suggest you pace yourself by diluting the spirits or making wine drinks. Instead of drinking back-to-back cocktails, alternate by drinking water with a little lemon in between. You can also try a mocktail, or fill your cup with unsweetened sparkling water or iced tea. (Federal dietary guidelines say people who don’t drink shouldn’t start and that drinking less is better for health than drinking more.)
Do not fool yourself
When it’s time to carve a turkey, many prefer white meat because it contains less fat.
“People think, ‘Oh, I’m making a healthy choice,’ and then they drizzle gravy over it,” adding saturated fat and sodium, Spiess said.
So, focus on the entire dish, Spiess emphasized, and keep portions reasonable. You can leave room to savor traditional salty and fatty Thanksgiving foods, especially if it’s outside your usual routine.
“It’s okay to take a few bites,” Space said. “You don’t need a huge service.”
Room for dessert?
The same thinking applies to candy, Spiess said. If you’re having pie, make it a smaller piece and use whipped cream. Or choose fresh fruit instead.
Dunham said it is possible to enjoy sweets without overeating them. But holiday meals highlight another aspect of healthy eating, one that goes beyond physical nutrition.
“Foods and cultural traditions are really important,” she said. “And I think sometimes cultural foods nourish our bodies and souls just as much as foods do physically.”
So, when the sweet potato pie comes, you’re going to eat a slice. “It’s a Thanksgiving thing for me,” she said.
It’s one day a year,” Dunham said. “It won’t make or break any of the progress I’ve made with my health so far.”
Make movement part of the plan
Physical activity, even a little bit, is a good idea any day. It can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Small group exercise can change the focus of the day in a fun and healthy way, Spiess said. “It really prioritizes what Thanksgiving is about, versus the food.”
So, you can walk around the block with your grandma, or go play with the kids in the backyard, suggests Space.
Or try dancing, Dunham said. “Our family had a Soul Train line last year.”
Remember what you are there for
Small choices impact health over time, Dunham said. Understanding carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all important for daily meals.
More holiday meals, she said. “I think joy is a great ingredient on the plate, especially when it comes to Thanksgiving,” Dunham said. And meals that serve a side of joy “will be filling and satisfying meals, regardless.”
Spees will also think outside the kitchen.
“Enjoy the day,” she said. “Focus on your relationships with people. Life is short. Enjoy your day.”