Although some people look forward to, literally, pigging out all day, there is a more mindful and healthful way to enjoy Thanksgiving without the proverbial hangover that comes from overindulging (whether that be food, alcohol, or both). Things may look different this year. You may have fewer guests. You may not be traveling when you usually do. Here are some of my top tips to make the most out of the holiday:
1. Eat a healthy and hearty breakfast. Don’t be fooled into thinking that by skipping out on breakfast you have a license to eat that much more during the Thanksgiving feast. It's never fun to feel overstuffed. Eating a healthy breakfast that includes lean protein (eggs or egg whites, salmon, protein-enhanced smoothie, Greek yogurt) and fresh fruit (apples, pears, berries) or vegetables (spinach, bell peppers, broccoli) will get the day started on the right track and help keep you satisfied and less likely to binge or "pick" throughout the day.
2. Get some vigorous exercise first thing in the morning. If you can get outdoors for a hike, brisk walk, bike ride, run, ski, surf, paddle, or snowshoe, that's even better. The outdoors is invigorating and you'll take in some needed vitamin D. You'll also set your metabolism in gear as you prepare to potentially take in a few more calories than normal.
3. Start small and honor your normal pattern of eating. If offered, always choose the smaller plate size. We are less likely to overindulge when we use smaller plates. Why? Smaller plates equal smaller portions. Go generous on the vegetables (as long as they are not smothered in cream or cheese or both). Say yes to soup (again, as long as it isn't dairy based).
4. Take your time. Although it is tempting to dive right in and (pardon the pun) gobble everything down so you can be first at seconds, taking the time to chew well, breathe, and put the fork and knife down between bites will actually result in less chance of overeating. It takes the brain a little bit of time to register satiety (the feeling of fullness) after the food hits the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. When you plow through your food without taking time to pause, you'll likely be that person who ends up having to loosen that top button on his pants or leaning way back in your chair because your trying to create space for your diaphragm to expand and contract.
5. Make the best choices available. There are some stellar superfoods available this time of year and they often show up on the Thanksgiving table. Sweet potatoes are fabulous on their own – they don't need extra butter and sugar. As a superfood, they are loaded with carotenoids, fiber, antioxidants and vitamins so definitely say yes to sweet potatoes. Cranberries are also a definite yes. Hopefully you won't be stuck with over-sweetened, canned cranberry sauce. Instead opt for a salsa or relish made from fresh cranberries and seasonal favorites like persimmon or pomegranate. Limit the amount of gravy you use, especially if it has been prepared with flour and excess fat drippings or tons of salt and butter. Pescatarians (“vegetarians” who also eat fish) may choose poached salmon for their main dish. Vegans may choose “Vegducken” Here’s the LINK. It's a fun- looking alternative recipe that we intend to try this year. Say yes to Brussels sprouts and winter greens salad made with spinach, beets, pears and slivered almonds. Dare we suggest skipping the stuffing altogether (you have enough starch from the sweet potatoes, yes)? Try alternatives to stuffing, such as wild rice or quinoa pilaf. Say yes to pumpkin pie but pass on the pecan pie. Although we love pecans, pecan pie is typically loaded with excess fat and sugar.
6. Buy LESS. If you know you will be hosting fewer people than you normally host, adjust the amount of food that you bring home. The more you have, the more you will eat (and continue to eat throughout the week). It's human nature. No need for twenty-seven pies when you only have five guests. Use your best judgment.
More than anything, be grateful for the food and people that are right in front of you. Give thanks for all who came together to make the feast possible, even if you are a party of one. And if you're looking for extra credit or at least a good excuse to burn a few extra calories, put on some great music after your meal and dance like crazy for at least two songs before diving into the dish duty.