The Thanksgiving Survival Guide: 5 Ways to Stay Healthy on Thanksgiving

At Fresh Market in Westport, CT, there are a variety of choices available to help cook traditional Thanksgiving meals.| Photo by Devin Skolnick '11

The first Thanksgiving was at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621, as a celebration between the Indians and Pilgrims to give thanks to God for a good harvest. In modern times, it has become a time for family—an opportunity to reunite with loves ones, friends, and neighbors. Thanksgiving has also become synonymous with football, holiday shopping, and especially overeating, which sometimes leads to sitting at the dinner table with a loosened belt. In order to help you stay healthy on Thanksgiving, I have compiled a survival guide with five tips that I recommend you follow.

1. Start Cooking After Breakfast

Preparing the feast for your family’s Thanksgiving dinner brings about lots of temptations. Tasting the stuffing before it is served or licking the batter of the apple pie filling may seem harmless. In reality, these samplings add up in calories fairly quickly.

My advice is to begin preparing the meal directly after you finish breakfast—this way you will be cooking on a full stomach and can resist the lure of taste-tests.

2. Drink Tons of Water

Apple cider, eggnog, hot chocolate, sodas, and cinnamon flavored cocktails (for those who are of legal age) are prevalent drinks during the holiday season. These drinks are not only highly caloric, but also contain many servings of sodium.

My advice is to replace those beverages with water. Water will become your new best friend. Drinking water speeds up your digestive and metabolic systems, relieves fatigue by flushing out toxins and waste products from your body, and keeps you hydrated. The best part about water is that you can reap all of these benefits without adding any calories to your diet!

3. Choose Your Indulgences

Staying healthy on Thanksgiving does not mean completely avoiding junk food; you are allowed to indulge yourself. However, choose those indulgences wisely. From gravy and potatoes to apple pie, there will most likely be a variety of choices available for you to eat during the meal.

My advice is to put as many vegetables (substitute the butter with pepper or olive oil) and white meats on your plate as you would like, then go for the unhealthy stuff. Reduce the amounts of gravy that you put on your turkey, and try to substitute your potatoes with vegetables. But if you can’t go without eating your grandmother’s traditional pie, then have a slice and enjoy it.

4. Hold Off on Seconds

The smell of the Thanksgiving meal may entice you to stack more on your plate. Second servings are always just as delicious, but not beneficial for your health. You may already be full, but not realize it if you are solely focusing on when it is appropriate to get up from the table to serve yourself more food.

My advice is to wait approximately 20 minutes. Your body needs time to digest the food that you have just eaten, so that your stomach can tell your brain that it is full. Use this time to fill up your water glass, and to talk with your family members at the table. If there is a lot of food left over, do not feel forced to finish it. Plan for leftovers. You can package up the extra food in small containers for your future meals during the week, and still be able to enjoy the juicy turkey the next day.

5. Go For a Walk

After consuming lots of food during a Thanksgiving meal, many people feel obligated to lie on the couch and watch a football game while all the food sits in their stomachs.

My advice is to go for a long walk after the meal. I am not telling you to skip watching the football games, but after or before try to make a family outing walk. Use this time to catch up with family members and enjoy the crisp autumn air while simultaneously burning some calories.