7 Healthy Food Tips: Navigating the Thanksgiving Feast

thanksgiving.jpgThanksgiving is a day for family, friends, and great food–not a time to stress over what you’re eating. That said, having a plan of attack before you walk into your relative’s house could put your mind at ease.

Here are seven healthy food tips for navigating the Thanksgiving feast.

Don’t starve yourself beforehand. It’s easy to think that you shouldn’t eat anything on the morning or early afternoon of the big feast, but this strategy will likely backfire. If you’re starving by the time you sit down to dinner, you’re much more likely to end up binging than if you’d had a sensible breakfast and lunch. This is one of the reasons why the average American consumes 3000 calories on Thanksgiving and 229 grams of fat. (Yikes!)

Eat protein earlier in the day. OK, so if you followed our first point, you’re going to have a sensible breakfast/lunch before you partake in the feast, right? The key word here is “sensible.” Thanksgiving is not the day to indulge in pancakes or French toast for breakfast. Instead, focus on protein-packed foods that will sustain you and keep you from feeling ravenous at the Turkey Day dinner itself. Think eggs for breakfast and maybe some walnuts or almonds and an apple for lunch.

Have a flexible plan of attack going into the feast. Setting strict rules for yourself before you walk through the door could set yourself up for failure because you might end up feeling defeated and/or deprived before the meal even starts. Instead, simply have some realistic guidelines, such as you’ll have a slice of pie, but you’ll decide which kind when you get there—and you’re free to change your mind if you want.

Don’t put everything you see on your plate. Choose the foods you truly enjoy and allow yourself to enjoy them. If you’re ambivalent about a dish, consider passing it by. So, for example, if you’re not a fan of green beans, but someone made a green bean casserole, don’t feel you must add it (and the extra calories) to your plate.

Be mindful. Simply put, mindfulness means paying attention to the moment—to the now. When it comes to mindful eating, it’s important to be mindful of things like flavors, textures, and smells as well as how you’re feeling in the moment (e.g. are you full, are you stuffed, are you eating because you’re sad, and so forth). From there, you can make decisions and adjustments based on what your body is telling you.

Mindful eating is not about punishing yourself or depriving yourself, but simply to be aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. For example, stop and ask yourself “Am I really hungry or just eating this because it’s there?” You might end up making a different decision, simply because you increased your own awareness around how you really feel.

At holiday feasts, it’s easy to “graze,” since yummy foods like chips and dips and sweets are usually only an arm’s length away. You can eat (and eat and eat and eat) without even realizing you’re doing it since you’ll likely be busy talking, laughing, watching football, etc. The key with mindfulness is to occasionally stop and take stock: are you hungry? If not, give yourself permission to stop eating. If you are hungry, is what you’re about to consume what you really want? (It’s OK if you say yes; the key is being aware.)

Note: mindful eating is something that can and should extend well beyond the Thanksgiving feast. You can use mindfulness as part of your overall wellness plan.

Pay attention to what you drink. Certain alcoholic drinks (we’re looking at you, hot buttered rum) and other traditional holiday beverages, such as eggnog, can go down easy—sometimes too easily. Certainly enjoy a holiday libation, but trade off every drink with a glass or two of water so that you don’t end up drinking most of your calories.

Remember, it’s just one day. Yes, you could argue that Thanksgiving serves as the gateway holiday to a month of so-called “bad eating,” but in reality, it’s just one day out of 365. If you over-indulge, forgive yourself and get back on track the next day. In other words, don’t let one slip-up redefine what you’ve accomplished and what you can accomplish going forward.

What are your tips for navigating the Thanksgiving Day feast? Share in the comments!

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