Thanksgiving means a happy day full of family, football and fun.
It also usually means a day of binge eating buttery sides, sugary pies and more than a little holiday cheer in a glass.
By approaching Thanksgiving, and the rest of the upcoming holiday season, with a mindful and healthful outlook, it is possible to enjoy the day without breaking the caloric bank.
According to Jennifer Nelson, MS, RD, (MS, Registered Dietician) and Katherine Zeratsky, RD, from the Mayo Clinic, “Thanksgiving dinner can easily add up to 4,000 calories.”
By controlling the amount eaten during the Thanksgiving meal, you can keep these numbers under control.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a variety of tips for ways for those with diabetes to manage the holidays in a healthy way. Even for those without the disease, the suggestions can help shift the focus from quantity to quality and from gluttony to a more healthy celebration.
One such tip is to eat a healthy snack earlier in the day to help prevent overeating on the rich options provided at mealtime.
By taking smaller portions, all the favorite holiday treats can be enjoyed, but in moderation.
By watching your beverage intake and choosing sparkling water or unsweetened tea, you can help prevent unwanted calories from sneaking in by the glassful.
Another reason to watch the glass, especially when it's full of alcohol: ”Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating,” according to Greta Macaire, RD, from the California Pacific Medical Center.
By slowing down and making careful decisions, you can enjoy your Thanksgiving meal without going overboard.
Not only can picking and choosing which dishes to indulge in help, but so can making some smart substitutions.
For one, CDC recommends skipping the glazed ham and gravy-covered turkey in favor of turkey (or other lean meats) with the skin trimmed off and the gravy avoided.
Thanksgiving meals are often full of veggies – so just take it easy on the dressings and butter and load your plate up with the greens.
Nelson and Zeratsky recommend having just the green beans without the casserole, “Or try other nutritious green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, asparagus or broccoli. Lightly steam them and top with a sprinkling of lemon zest.”
Cranberries are another healthy, antioxidant-rich treat usually adorning Thanksgiving Day tables. But, “...try cutting the sugar in traditional recipes by at least half,” say Nelson and Zeratsky.
Even the dessert table can me made healthier with a few easy substitutions.
Macaire recommends replacing heavy cream with evaporated skim milk, two egg whites for each whole egg, creating crustless pies and using toppings of fresh fruit instead of thick frosting.
Another benefit of these healthy substitutions – once the family realizes how tasty they can be, you may have helped promote making healthier choices even to your very-set-in-his-ways great uncle. Over time, these new options can become a treasured family tradition.
Though the main focus of Thanksgiving is the food, that doesn’t mean the entire week needs to be an eating and TV-watching bonanza.
Trying to maintain an exercise routine through the holiday season is important to your health for many reasons.
According to Macaire, “Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevent weight gain. A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating.”
However, Macaire stresses that holiday revelers should be realistic, saying that its best not to try to lose weight during the season, but simply to aim for maintaining weight.
The CDC suggests that you “...focus on friends, family and activities instead of food. Take a walk after a meal, or join in the dancing at a party.”
A classic game of backyard touch football can combine traditions and exercise – a holiday win-win. Furthermore, getting everyone involved in an activity can create memories that last for years.
Get into the Spirit of Gratitude
One more, perhaps surprising, way to make this Thanksgiving a little healthier is to really practice the gratitude at the heart of the season.
According to the Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that not only is gratitude associated with greater happiness, but it also “...helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, 192 participants were asked to complete a small writing assignment each week for ten weeks.
The participants were separated into three groups – one who wrote about things they were grateful for that had happened that week, one about things that had irritated them and one about things that had affected them in general.
At the end of the study, not only did those who focused on gratitude display more optimism and positivity about their lives, they also “...experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in either of the other two groups,” report the authors.
This group of participants exercised more (almost 1.5 hours more a week) and visited the doctor less during the study period.
More research on the physical and mental health benefits of gratitude needs to be done and these results explored in more depth.
However, there seems to be very little to lose in being grateful for what you have this holiday season, and potentially getting a health boost in the process!
By focusing on gratitude, family and quality time instead of food and TV, and by making an effort to make the holiday more nutritious and active, this could be the start of a whole new healthy Thanksgiving tradition.
Now pass the turkey, but no skin, please!