Thanksgiving is here! Time to hangout with family, friends, and of course, food. I’ve been getting a lot of questions with how to handle this day with our health and fitness goals in mind. Do I count calories? Do I track macros? Do I bring my food scale? Should I skip dessert? All fair questions… So I thought I’d share with you the strategies I use with my clients and maybe you’ll gain some helpful tips as well!
First things first, let’s answer those questions above… In short, the answer is NO. To all of them. I don’t think you should count calories, track macros, bring a damn food scale, or skip dessert, you crazy? This day should be spent less focused on the food, and more focused on the people surrounded by you. This day is the perfect opportunity to practice balance, moderation, and mindfulness.
If you were anything like me, I used to see any holiday as an excuse to eat everything and go completely overboard. My eyes lit up with all the tasty home cooked foods that I could only get my hands on once a year. I’d go into it happy, but afterwards? I’d ALWAYS FEEL AWFUL. I’d be stuck with such an uncomfortable food coma that I’d have to sit on the couch the rest of the night struggling to breath properly because it hurt so bad. Not only that, but the next fews days were a real struggle to get back to making healthy choices that made me feel good again.
I don’t want that for any of you this year. So I thought I’d share with you some of my practical holiday strategies I use for my coaching clients, and for myself, so you can master the holidays this year and take control!
Here are my top 6 tips and strategies to master Thanksgiving:
1. Workout beforehand.
If you’re going to be feasting today, why not put those calories to good use? Getting a solid workout in before your Thanksgiving meal can create a muscle stimulus to utilize nutrient partitioning to your advantage.
What is nutrient partitioning?
This is the process by which your body decides what to do with the calories you consume. When you eat food, the nutrients are either burned off for energy or stored for later use.
The “stored for later use” part is the important factor here… Ideally, we’d like these stored nutrients to be partitioned to our muscle cells rather than our fat cells.
How can we make this happen?
By working out (resistance training, not yoga, cardio, or walking) before your big meal, you can prime your body to shuttle the nutrients from your meal to building muscle, instead of storing fat. How cool is that?
If you are home, or have a gym nearby, go get a lift in. Don’t have a ton of time, but want to get the most out of your workout? Try some metabolic training. This consists of compound multi-joint movements which work the larger muscle groups and recruit more muscle fibers. These movements include things like squats, deadlifts, cleans, chest press, overhead presses, and back rows. When you combine these compound movements in a circuit fashion moving from one exercise to the next with no rest, this is called metabolic training.
Because each of these movements require a ton of energy and work a ton of different muscles all at once. Combine that with multiple exercises performed back to back, you’re getting the most ‘bang for your buck’ and the best of both worlds with resistance training and cardio in the same workout. This will be the most efficient use of your limited time spent in the gym. The other benefits of this type of training is it increases your metabolic rate meaning you will be burning more calories during, and after your workout as well. Performed correctly, you’ll still be burning calories from this mornings workout when you sit down for your Thanksgiving feast.
Here is an example of what a metabolic training workout would look like:
Barbell Back Squat x 12-15 reps
Barbell Bench Press x 12-15 reps
DB incline back rows x 12-15 reps
Barbell Deadlift x 10-12 reps
DB Overhead Press x 10-12 reps
DB Walking Lunges x 12-15 reps/leg
Should take you about 20-40 minutes to complete based on rest times. But damn, you will be huffing, puffing, and sweatin’ like a pig.
No gym? No problem.
Try this bodyweight circuit you can perform at home, no equipment necessary:
20 prisoner squats
20 push ups
20 “Supermans” (back exercise)
12-16 split squat jumps (6-8/leg)
20 tricep dips
40 mountain climbers (20/leg)
Complete 3-5 rounds of this circuit.
This is guaranteed to get your metabolism burning!
2. Eat before you go.
You heard me right. Eat something before you leave the house. With that said, be mindful with your meal/meals beforehand. If you usually start your day with a large breakfast, try scaling it back a bit. You can even practice Intermittent Fasting in the morning and skip breakfast altogether. By no means do you have to eat something before your Thanksgiving feast, but in my experience eating a meal before leads me less likely to graze and pick at the appetizers or overdo it when my stomach isn’t rumbling when I walk through the door. Plan to eat a lighter meal before you head out the door. Go for something that consists of protein and veggies. This could be a chicken breast sliced in a large romaine and spinach salad with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. This works well because:
Protein = low calorie and highly satiating.
Veggies = high volume, fiber and satiating.
Wash it down with a few glasses of water.
Protein + Fiber + Water = FULLNESS!
By feeling satiated before your Thanksgiving meal, you will literally have less room in your stomach come feast time. This will lead to less overall food consumed during your Thanksgiving event.
3. Drink enough water throughout the day.
Of course, staying hydrated is always important. But by consciously drinking more water before, during, and after your Thanksgiving feast, you will be flushing out the excessive sodium some foods may contain that your body is not used to on a daily basis. This will help dodge the water retention and bloated feeling we get after large meals. Consuming a lot of water on this day will also help you keep fuller, preverting you from going back up for 3rds, or 4ths… meaning you will consume less food and calories overall.
4. Offer to bring a dish to share/eat.
Not only is it polite to offer to bring a dish to pass, it may also bring you some piece of mind knowing that there will be at least one thing that you know is “clean” and know exactly what is in the dish. If you are going to a “Friendsgiving” party, or your family’s Thanksgiving, bringing a dish to share that is healthy allows you to use this to your advantage. When it comes to the traditional thanksgiving foods; fried turkey (even deep fried nowadays) with gravy, mashed potatoes with butter, candied sweet potatoes that contain a stick of butter and a bag of brown sugar, the green bean casserole made with butter, flour, and half-and-half, cranberry sauce, and of course… the pecan and pumpkin pie for dessert….. it can be a struggle to find “healthy options.” Bringing a dish of your own is a great strategy and opportunity to make something healthy to pass, and well, something to fall back on and eat if all else fails. Fill up on the healthy dish you bring, then have some of the other foods you enjoy as well. This will allow you to most likely consume less overall calories of the unhealthy stuff since you brought your own dish to munch on. You can also show your friends and/or family that eating healthy can taste just as good, if not better, than the unhealthy foods, without the additional calories… it’s a win-win!
5. Strategize your meal.
For your first plate (because yes, you will be getting seconds, come on it’s Thanksgiving after all) stick with the leaner and lighter options. Fill 1/4-1/2 of your plate with turkey (protein) and the other 3/4-1/2 with vegetables (fiber).
Take your time with this plate. Sip on some water, put your fork down between bites, and engage in conversation. Remember, you are there for the people, not the food. Try waiting 15 minutes before heading up for seconds to allow your food to start digesting. This will help you start feeling a bit full sooner rather than not waiting and consuming your second plate before your body starts to feel any effect of satiation, leading to overeating and the not so comfortable “food coma” we all seem to achieve year after year. Slow down, enjoy each bite, take a few minutes before Round 2, then go up for seconds.
For your second plate (Round 2), if you’re still not super full, definitely go for more turkey (or other protein source available). The second serving of protein will definitely help satiate you. And if the veggies were tasty, why not have some more? If you can fill up on the leaner and lighter options, this will allow you to enjoy the other tastier sides in smaller portions. Again, leading to less overall food and calories consumed (see the trend here?). Your second plate can have some of the goods on it… the candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans casserole, corn, cranberries, etc. These options should be there more for taste rather than satiation. Be mindful with the amount you place on your plate, eat slow, enjoy every bite, and if you’re stuffed, you don’t have to finish everything on your plate just because it’s there. Listen to your body and it’s hunger/satiation signals. If it’s telling you you’re full, then it doesn’t make sense to keep shoving food in your mouth just because it’s there.
After Round 2, take some time to relax again. Enjoy a good laugh with your family. Watch the football game. Drink some water. Shoot, have a beer, some wine, or whatever your cocktail of choice is. Just do something to relax, take your mind off of food, and let your body digest. Take some more time here… Maybe 30 or 60 minutes. Then, if you’ve saved room for dessert, go for it. I am saying you can have anything, but that does not mean you need to have everything. Read that last sentence again…
Okay, moving on… If your Thanksgiving is anything like mine, there definitely will be more than one dessert to choose from… pecan pie, pumpkin pie, brownies, ice cream, or my absolute favorite~ my Auntie Ann’s homemade cream cheese frosted pumpkin bars (RIP Ann, love you BIG). You don’t have to have one of everything, this isn’t “free samples” day at Sam’s Club here. This is the time to eat like an adult. You are an adult, right? So act like one. Choose your favorite dessert, and stick to that choice. Now go ahead and indulge!
6. Enjoy it!
This is the most important of them all. Thanksgiving happens once a year. This is a special occasion. A time we should be grateful for. A time that we should be thankful for, not guilty for. Many of us only see our families only one or two times a year. This should be quality time spent with loved ones having fun in conversation, laughter, games, and well of course, watching football, duh. This should not be a time beating yourself up about food choices, feeling guilty, or shameful, and not living in the present with the people surrounding you. There should be no guilt with you during your time together, and you should also not go home with any guilt. The only thing you should go home with, are leftovers.
To wrap up, don’t stress about it. If you go a little overboard, hey, it’s OKAY. In the grand scheme of things, it’s one day. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and can’t be torn down in a day. One day of eating “off plan” will do nothing to hinder the progress you’ve been working so hard at. So remember, this is not a celebration of food. This is a celebration of people. I challenge you to make this holiday season about the people around you, not the food. Use your mouth more for talking, laughing, and telling stories, and less for stuffing your face.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone,