Healthy. What a loaded word it has become. What does a “healthy” Thanksgiving meal look like to you? You may be surprised at how I’d answer that.
You might think I’m going to tell you to slash the fat. I’m not. You might be expecting something about loading up on veggies and watching the high-calorie sides and desserts. Sure, but not my primary focus. But what I really mean when I say “healthy” Thanksgiving (or any other holiday we associate with food, which means pretty much every holiday), I mean these seven things:
- Eat what you love. If it’s not Thanksgiving without your mother’s pumpkin pie, then have some. Can’t choose between sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and stuffing? Have them all. I often talk about sticking to a fist-sized serving of these carbohydrate-rich foods (about a cup), but if it stretches a little at one meal, it’s not the end of the world. On the other hand…
- Skip (or minimize) what you don’t love. Be selective. Do you fill up on potato chips just because they’re there? Take a scoop of jello salad just to be polite? If you don’t truly look forward to them, quietly pass.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done. Willpower starts to melt after your second glass of wine and a half-hour of listening to that uncle (you know the one).
We like to talk about using “skilllpower” so you don’t have to rely on willpower. Can you diplomatically, delicately discourage these foods when the meal is being planned? Offer to bring a lighter choice? Who knows, the family may even prefer it. If not, can you move away from food you’d rather not eat? Plan to take the kids to the park while the meal is being prepared? Or move temptations away from you? Send a dish you’ve had enough of to the other end of the table.
And finally, if you don’t want to overeat, start by not overdrinking. I’m talking to you, third glass of wine that makes us decide to have a second dessert.
- Own your food choices. Whatever you decide to eat, enjoy it without guilt. Rather than beat yourself up for “cheating” or “being bad,” say “The pie was lovely” and relax. You’ll be back to eating your regular eating habits tomorrow.
- If you decide to pass on something, a simple “no thanks” will suffice. For goodness sakes, don’t say, “I’m not allowed to have that.” Give your power away, and you’re likely to start feeling rebellious at some point. You are a grown-up in a free country, and you are allowed to eat whatever you like.
You may choose not to have something because of how it makes you feel, how it affects your health, or because you just don’t like it that much. But you don’t have to explain that to anybody. In fact, most people would rather not hear your dietary defence.
But if you’re pressed by a food-pusher, give an answer that starts with “I”. People get their backs up when you judge the food — “Potatoes are loaded with carbohydrates” — but no one can argue with “I’d like to keep my blood sugar out of the red zone” and then change the subject. It’s really no one’s business.
- Plan to get outside on the day of the big meal. No, you’re not trying to burn all of those extra calories. You can’t outrun your fork, as physician Yoni Freedhoff is known for saying. But if you can start the day with a mood-boosting morning run or end it with a fun family walk, or both, you’ll probably feel a whole lot better, and better about yourself. Here’s to fresh air.
- Cut stress if you can. Holiday feasts can be stressful, which is one of the most commonly cited triggers for overeating. In addition to that healthy dose of physical activity, what will make Thanksgiving more relaxing and enjoyable for you? Can you do the bulk of the cooking ahead of time? Can you scale back the menu to make it more manageable? Outsource some of the cooking? More controversially, can you not invite that person you know will drink too much and/or antagonize everyone? Either way, make sure to get a good night’s sleep so you’re not exhausted come turkey time.
- Focus on the thankful part of Thanksgiving. Science is starting to find that people who regularly practice gratitude experience a host of benefits. What better time to start?
With the right mindset, and a good plan, you can have a happy (and healthy) Thanksgiving, pie included!
Do you have any tips to add? Feel free to chime in on the Sweet Spot Nutrition Facebook page.