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Surviving Thanksgiving: Tips For Staying Healthy

Photo courtesy of Julie via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Julie via Flickr

Holidays can be bittersweet for the single person. It’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the company of those who matter most, but deep down, this company comes with a stinging reminder of the life that still evades you: family life.

In such an emotionally charged climate, you’re more likely to make food choices you’ll regret. Here are a few tips for surviving Thanksgiving without a meltdown.

Define Your Goal

The best strategy for eating well at Thanksgiving is to clearly define your goal before arriving for dinner. Whether you’re in a season of weight loss, in a season of weight maintenance, or in the midst of pursuing a specific fitness goal, you have three options: embrace the gluttony, find the balance, or stay strict.

Option One: Embrace the Buffet

If you welcome the “gluttony” encouraged at Thanksgiving, make peace with this before ingesting your body weight in turkey. Go into the holiday knowing you’re going to overeat, and don’t judge yourself for it. To help minimize the damage and keep you on track overall, plan and prepare your meals for several days leading up to and several days after Thanksgiving Day. This will help you avoid the trap of letting Thanksgiving day bleed into Thanksgiving week. If you have healthy meals waiting for you, it’s a lot harder to justify binging on leftovers (by the way, they’re not coming home with you).

Option Two: Find the Balance

Finding balance during the holidays is not impossible! It does not require calorie counting, macro counting, or any formal tracking method. Simply approach the holiday with the intention to remain aware of your food choices—”aware” being the operative word here. Americans default to auto-eat mode during the holidays. Finding balance is really about fighting against your tendency to flip the switch to auto-eat. Your best defense against auto-eat is to be picky about what you put on your plate. The moment you let your guard down and wander the buffet aimlessly, you’ll be piling your plate high like everyone else. Keep food choices in the front of your mind by carefully selecting the contents of your plate.

Here’s a familiar example:

Auto-eat sounds like,“Oh, look at these delicious pies! Pumpkin – yes, please! Oh, there’s apple, too! Yes, please! After all, the holidays only come around once a year. I’ll just work it off tomorrow!

Awareness sounds like, “Oh, look at these delicious pies! Let’s see what selections we have. Looks like pumpkin and apple. Should I pick one, or compromise and have a small slice of both? Let’s sample a little of both—after all, it’s the holidays!

Finding balance at the holidays is not about restriction. Both examples allow you to enjoy a full selection of holiday treats; the key difference is that one approach throws caution to the wind, and the other makes a careful choice. Think it through, and you’ll make it through!

Option Three: Keep it Tight

Remaining strictly on your diet during the holidays can be quite the challenge, but it can be done. Your best strategy if you intend to remain on your diet is to have a plan—a specific plan. Don’t leave it up to chance or willpower! What are you going to eat at each course? What snacks? What drinks? What will fill your plate at dinner? What will you eat for dessert? It’s risky to assume you’ll just abstain; remember, your default holiday mode is auto-eat. Combine that with peer pressure and emotional pressure, and you have the recipe for temptation. If it’s important to you to remain on your diet, you must arrive mentally prepared. Failure to plan is planning to fail!

Avoid Leftovers At All Costs!

Regardless of your choices during the day, do not, do not, DO NOT take home leftovers! You will have to stand your ground on this one. Don’t fool yourself: You’ll eat it before it makes it to work on Monday. Do not bring it home. If you’re worried about offending the host, you can always accept the plate of food and then “forget” it on their counter. Okay, okay—not the most honest option, but it might help in a pinch.

Now, if you’re the host of the Thanksgiving celebration (lucky you), this is an added challenge. Your job is to relentlessly hound your guests to take home leftovers. Be prepared with Tupperware and/or baggies to make it easier and to set the expectation that this is what’s about to happen. Again, you will have to stand your ground on this … and keep an eye on your counters.

Be Wary of Emotional Eating

If you’re susceptible to emotional eating, you already know this. Just a friendly reminder: Thanksgiving is no exception! Use the strategies listed above to develop a Turkey Day Game Plan that’s in line with your personal goals, but add to it a fallback food. A fallback food is a food you can fall back on when you have that irresistible urge to bury your emotions under a pile of chocolate chip cookies. Even if you’re planning to embrace the holiday and allow yourself to pig out, a fallback food is still a wise choice. The more sugar-laden, butter-coated, grease-filled food you take in, the worse you’ll feel the next day. You won’t appreciate a food hangover to go along with your emotional hangover!

To decipher if you’re eating to enjoy your food or eating because you feel emotional, ask yourself how you feel in that moment. Use your fallback food when you recognize you’re only going for that second helping of casserole because you just endured Grandma’s rapid-fire questions about your “future plans.” When in doubt, turn first to your fallback food. Raw veggies are a great snack food for this option, but it doesn’t have to be that healthy—even pretzel sticks are better than cookies or 14 scoops of buffalo chicken dip! Decide on your fallback food ahead of time, and make sure there is plenty on hand.

Be Proactive by Getting Active

Getting active is a surefire way to get in front of any emotional stress you may be feeling … and get you away from the buffet for a while. For many families, Thanksgiving is an inactive day, but for others, the day doesn’t go by without a game of touch football. If your family is active, guess what? Your mission is to get your hiney in that lineup—no excuses. If your family is typically inactive, try engaging the kids in a game (kids need to burn off energy anyway, right?), or invite someone you’d like to catch up with to take a stroll outside with you. Nothing sets the scene for meaningful connection like the crisp, autumn air.

Overall, the diet nay-sayers are right: Thanksgiving only comes around once a year. Set realistic goals for yourself and do your best, but at the end of the day, don’t forget to enjoy the moment.

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