Here in the US, Thanksgiving is almost upon us. No doubt you’re looking forward to some rest and relaxation, a vacation from work, and some much-needed time with your family, friends, and loved ones.
But if you’re on any kind of health journey, holidays such as Thanksgiving can set you back or derail your progress. Whether you are trying to lose weight, get more exercise, reduce the amount of unhealthy foods in your diet, or shift towards a more plant-based way of eating, it’s easy for your goals to fly out of the window during times of celebration.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are a few easy tricks and strategies you can put in place to ensure you get to enjoy the holiday and stay on track towards your health goals. We have tailored these tips specifically to Thanksgiving, but they are equally relevant to any holiday in which food plays a significant role.
Don’t skip meals
During the holidays, many people are tempted to skip meals to “save calories” for the big feast. This is a big mistake and is more likely to lead to rebound binge eating in the long run. Allowing yourself to get too hungry can also have a negative impact on your mood, making you irritable and short-tempered and hurting your ability to enjoy the holidays you have been looking forward to.
Instead of “saving up” for your Thanksgiving meal by drastically cutting calories elsewhere, eat normally at the meals surrounding it. Starting your day with a balanced and filling breakfast is particularly key to successfully limiting holiday binges.
Limit alcohol to mealtimes
For many people, enjoying a drink or two is part of the fun of Thanksgiving. Alcohol is not a problem in moderation, but it contains empty calories and too much can lead to poor food choices you may not otherwise have made. Too much alcohol can also make you feel sluggish, dehydrate you, and interfere with your sleep.
Why not decide in advance that you will only drink alcohol with a meal? Plan ahead and buy some delicious alternatives such as alcohol-free beers, juices, or mocktails that you can enjoy instead, then enjoy your glass of wine or cocktail at dinner stress-free.
Load up your plate with veggies
Many Thanksgiving dishes are high in saturated fat, salt, sugar, and other ingredients that can be unhealthy if eaten to excess. Instead of piling your plate high with them, enjoy those things in moderation. Choose your favorites, skip the dishes you don’t particularly care about, and fill the rest of your plate with delicious seasonal vegetables.
As a quick rule of thumb, around half your plate should ideally consist of vegetables. Having at least one fruit-based dessert on offer is also a great way to sneak some more nutritional value into your holiday meal.
Track as normal
If you usually track any health metrics, such as steps, calories, or macros, do this as usual during the holiday.
It can be tempting to pretend that if you don’t track something, it did not really happen. However, tracking your metrics is simply information that you can use to improve your health and make better choices in the future. Therefore, doing it as accurately as possible (even on days when you might make less than ideal choices) will give you more valuable data to use in the future.
Make time for exercise
If you’re cooking a Thanksgiving feast or traveling to visit friends and family, it may not be realistic to fit in your usual long run or gym session. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to getting no movement at all.
Instead, why not plan to take a walk after dinner? This can aid in digestion, particularly if you feel uncomfortably full, and can help you to resist the temptation to go back for seconds (or thirds) that you don’t really need. And if you take others with you, it can be a social activity that is part of the holiday fun.
Keep it in perspective
There is only so much damage you can do to your health in a single day, or even a single holiday weekend. Therefore, try to stay on track, but don’t panic if you slip up or make choices you later regret. Beating yourself up will only prolong any negative feelings you may be experiencing and make it harder to get back on the wagon again. Instead, chalk it up to a learning experience and move on as quickly as possible.
Overeating on one day will not undo all your progress. But telling yourself “I’ve ruined it now anyway” and continuing to binge on subsequent days definitely will.