Thanksgiving dinner is something some of us dream about all year long. It's filled with delicious dishes like stuffing, pumpkin pie and, of course, turkey. The problem is that we tend to eat a little too much of those holiday favorites, leaving us feeling stuffed. Not to mention, it's easy to pack on some extra weight this time of year - Americans can consume more than 4,500 calories at a Thanksgiving dinner.
But there are ways to avoid that dreaded bloated feeling and not totally ruin a healthy lifestyle. How? We consulted several dietitians and a certified holistic health coach to find out what to do on Thanksgiving Day (and the day after) to help you feel your best. Here are their top tips for surviving Turkey Day while still enjoying it.
The Day of Thanksgiving: Don't Skip Out on Breakfast
Don't skip breakfast on Thanksgiving morning (or the day after) because you want to save calories. "Skipping breakfast will only make you feel ravenous and entice you to choose less nutritious foods later in the day," says Stephanie McKercher, Colorado-based registered dietitian and blogger at Grateful Grazer. "Instead, try a nourishing breakfast like sweet potato energy bars, a cozy bowl of oatmeal, or a vibrant fruit smoothie to start your day." You want the meals to be both nourishing and satiating so that you don't get the urge to snack on leftovers all morning.
Power Up With Protein
While you will undoubtedly have a lot of carbs and sweets as options on the Thanksgiving table (we're looking at you, stuffing and pie), ensure that most of your plate is filled with protein and snack on it throughout the day. "Include protein with all your meals and snacks to feel satisfied, stay energized and keep your metabolism revved," says Atlanta-based registered dietitian Alissa Palladino. "Good sources include eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, lean beef, and pork. Incorporate plant-based sources such as tofu, beans, lentils, and nuts for more nutritional diversity and less saturated fat."
Build a Colorful Plate
If the protein focus doesn't entirely work for you, try another tactic recommended by McKercher. "Serving up a colorful plate is one way to ensure you're getting digestion-boosting fiber and beneficial vitamins and minerals on Thanksgiving Day," she says. "Fruits and vegetables don't have to be boring. I like to switch up my holiday sides with non-traditional recipes like harissa-roasted carrots and thyme-roasted apples and pears."
You might be great at not overeating, but how are you doing with the booze? It can be easy to forget the calorie intake from holiday drinks. One 5-ounce glass of red wine can be as much as 125 calories, for example. More sugary cocktails like a mojito can pack as much as 242 calories. The solution? Stick to a glass or two max during the evening. This will prevent unwanted empty calories and feeling dehydrated the next morning.
Ditch the Doggy Bag
Thanksgiving dinner tastes better to some in the days after the holiday, but it's best to just avoid temptation altogether by not bringing home leftovers of the high-calorie dishes. "You likely enjoyed the stuffing, pie, and gravy beyond the point that you need to relive it right away," says Ilana Muhlstein, MS, RDN, and co-creator of 2B Mindset. "Sure, you can continue to eat the leftover turkey and roasted Brussels sprouts, but otherwise, move on."
Make a Plan
The best way to not overeat and maintain a healthy lifestyle is to have a plan. Before having your Thanksgiving meal, decide how much of the high-calorie items you are going to allow yourself. That way when you get to the table, you won't just mindlessly fill your plate. Also, sign up for a turkey trot or make a pact with a friend to hit the gym the next day. That way your mind is already focused on recovery, so you're likely to make healthier choices.
The Day After Thanksgiving: Get Some Sleep
OK, so you ate a lot at dinner. Don't fret. Here's how to start feeling better the day after. We focus so much on food and exercise when it comes to a healthy regimen, but a significant aspect of living a holistic life is sleep. During the night is when your body regenerates, which is especially helpful after having a large meal. Aim for a minimum of seven hours after your Thanksgiving dinner to reset your body and help you feel rested to get moving the next morning.
Don't Stress About Overeating
On Thanksgiving, it's entirely reasonable to eat past the point of fullness. What matters most is that you don't beat yourself up about it. "Allow yourself to enjoy the holiday," says McKercher. "Savor each bite, and know that one day of overeating isn't going to affect your overall health in the long run. You might think you need to take drastic measures to correct the big meal, but your body is pretty smart and will naturally adjust itself in the days afterward."
"Drinking lots of water the day or two following the feast will help you flush out the weight sooner and get you feeling more comfortable in your pants," says Muhlstein. "Water also helps you feel full, energized and focused, which is what you need to recover properly." The goal? Drink 100 ounces. Sparkling water and other calorie-free, sugar-free beverages are fine, too, according to Palladino. And increasing your intake of fresh fruits and veggies, which naturally have a high water content, counts towards your daily hydration goal as well.
Keep Fruit Out on the Counter
If leftovers are just sitting around, you might be more likely to reach for them, adding more calories than just the one meal. "Instead, place fresh fruit like apples and pears out on the countertop as you're more likely to grab them instead of pie," says New Jersey-based nutritionist Amy Gorin. "Also keep a bowl with diced fruit front and center in the fridge, as well as a plate of ready-to-eat sliced veggies."
You might not feel like going for a run or hitting the gym after a night of indulging, but it's one of the best things to get your body on track. "Moving your body aids digestion and helps you get back into your normal, healthy routines," says McKercher. "The day after Thanksgiving, set aside some time to go for a walk or practice yoga for a few minutes." In the days following, walk to meetings, take the stairs, run errands on foot instead of driving, and park farther away to get a little more movement in.
Emotions tend to run high this time of year. Don't let those stressors get the better of your eating habits. "If you feel like you need to calm down, have a cup of soothing, hot herbal tea," says Gorin. "Both chamomile and lavender can be incredibly calming." Not to mention, they keep you hydrated.
Avoid Fad Diets, Detoxes, and Cleanses
Diets that drastically restrict calories, eliminate entire food groups, or cut out macronutrients are inherently unsustainable. "Short term diets typically mean short-term results, plus they can set you up for a binge and/or trap you in a cycle of yo-yo dieting," says Palladino. "Plus, much of the 'weight loss' you see on these types of regimens is water weight and readily regained afterward."
Very low-calorie diets can lead to muscle protein breakdown and slow down your metabolism. Liquid diets or cleanses tend to lack protein (which is important for satiety), fiber (which is important for regularity), and other essential nutrients like B vitamins and iron (which you need for energy.) As a result, you're likely to feel hungry, fatigued and irritable. That's not what you want during the holidays.
Stay Busy on Your Days Off Work
Boredom is dangerous and so quickly leads to weight gain because you're just lounging and snacking. "While free time gets perceived as relaxing, it can actually make people feel more anxious, which can lead to bad eating habits," says Muhlstein. "Plan activities for the long weekend that make you feel productive, so you aren't rummaging through the pantry for lack of something to do." A great activity could be planning a wintery trip to a nearby national park. Ice caves, snow camping, and dog sledding are just a few of the reasons why you should visit national parks in the winter.
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