Does Thanksgiving make you feel uncomfortably full even just thinking about it? Do you head into the day already knowing it’s not going to be pretty? And then the day after do you end up feeling gross and like you need to ‘go on a diet’? Or does Thanksgiving give you anxiety just thinking about all the food and prompting the questions you ask yourself about how you will maintain your health goals during this food-focused holiday?
Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time to spend with family and friends. It can be a holiday where we relax and truly enjoy those around us – it cuts out all of the bling and commercialism of so many other holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc…). However, it IS a holiday that can have an almost obsessive focus on food, which for some individuals can induce guilt, anxiety, and stress. Regardless of your feelings of this thankful day, here are some tips to avoid letting the holiday derail your fitness and nutrition goals.
- Avoid ‘saving up.’ Do you ever find yourself not eating all day in an effort to ‘save up’ for the big meal? Not only do you end up eating over a 1,000 calories in appetizers because you’re so hungry, but then you eat thousand(s) more at the meal. Don’t do it. I list this as the number one strategy with reason. Research shows the number one cause for overeating is what we call ‘dietary restraint.’ Physiologically it makes sense. If we don’t eat all day, our hunger/fullness hormones get out of whack. Hunger hormones like ghrelin spike, and fullness hormones like leptin tank. This creates a biological drive to overeat. You combine that with a high calorie environment and it’s a recipe for disaster (hence the 5,000 calorie meals that are not uncommon at this feast!).
- It’s okay to eat smaller meals leading up to the big one, but don’t arrive to the meal starving. You are going to overeat, and it won’t be pretty.
- Be sure to have a high protein snack like a Greek yogurt before heading to the party – it can help take the edge off if you are quite hungry. That 150 calories may save you 500 more.
- Limit the amount of liquid calories you drink. We know from science that liquid calories are not nearly as satiating (helping us to feel full) as food calories. Filling up on calorie beverages like soda, juice, etc. can really increase our caloric intake and we don’t end up eating any less.
- Alcoholic beverages can be a double whammy because they decrease our inhibition, so when we’re drinking alcohol not only is it quite high in calories, but may make us less inhibited so we end up eating more.
- Focus on the company! If all we think about is the food, then we’re more likely to eat more food. Our thoughts drive our behaviors. When we take this opportunity to catch up with family and friends we can distract ourselves from hovering over the food table.
- Be choosey. Do you ever notice you always take Aunt Susie’s green bean casserole when you don’t really like it? Or that you could easily go without the side roll? Then go without it. Research shows people who ‘survey’ the buffet first, and then only take what they want (compared with taking something of everything) are much better at managing their nutrition. Be choosey – you’re worth it.
- Remember – you can always have more later. It’s so tempting to go back for seconds when we’re already stuffed, or to take that piece of pumpkin pie when we feel as though we couldn’t eat another bite, because we think this is the only time we can eat these foods. It’s not. Pumpkin pie is not that hard to make. Or take a piece and save it for the next day. When we get out of the mentality that this is the only time we can have these foods then we don’t feel the need to (over)stuff our faces.
- Bring something healthy to share. If you bring a delicious kale salad, or some roasted veggies to share, you are guaranteed to have a healthy option to put on your plate.
Overall Thanksgiving can be a wonderfully enjoyable, relaxing, and delicious holiday Be sure to have a game plan to manage your nutrition so that one day doesn’t leave you feeling as though you’ve ‘undone’ all the hard work you’ve been putting into your training.