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Enjoy Thanksgiving and Keep Your Fitness on Track

It’s official – travel for the holidays is back. About 70% of Americans said they have travel plans to travel for the holiday, Airport officials and industry analysts say passenger traffic for the Nov. 24 Thanksgiving holiday through New Year’s is set to reach or exceed 2019 levels.

This post updates the hottest tips for staying sane and healthy during Thanksgiving.

Watch the video

This video was not up when I posted it last week, but now you can view all of my best tips summarized in this video:

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Don’t wait until January

You could wait until New Year’s to make the same resolutions everyone ends up breaking, or you can start getting serious NOW and take advantage of ghost town gyms and fitness studios that are all throwing deals and free classes your way.

gym equipment inside room
This is the least busy time of year for gyms, so get in on your resolution now and it will be like you own the place Photo by Risen Wang

The best way to avoid winter weight gain is to “act as if” – act as if you are already trying to lose it. So fast forward and read up on my “5 tips to spring into fitness” post here:

Putting yourself in the mindset of being on a fitness journey, instead of procrastinating until “the holidays are over,” will frame all of the decisions you make when you are with family and friends and surrounded by tempting food.

Cut down on travel stress 

If you can, volunteer to host Thanksgiving or Christmas (or whatever December holiday it is you may celebrate). This may seem like it’s more work for you, but the comfort of your own home PLUS the control you have over the menu and the way food is prepped will make it much easier to stay healthy. Also, you don’t even have to cook (much). You can ask everyone to bring a dish (and most people do), and you can order very good quality pre-made Thanksgiving meals from WholeFoods, Costco, and Cracker Barrell. Trader Joe’s has some amazing deals on Thanksgiving turkeys, or even Marie Calendar’s can have a meal for eight people ready to go. All of these recommendations can be found on the delish website, and there are also more options on this blog post from Sheknows. One great recommendation I found from these sites was from a place called GoldBelly, which allows you to customize each “piece” of the meal, and also has vegan options. 

If you do have to travel for significant others’ family events, I suggest that you alternate, rather than try to do both sets of families at once. The extra pressure of going to two locations makes it likely that each experience will be less rich – not to mention you will be eating twice the food and drinking twice the drinks, and more likely to overindulge because of the stress. 

Also, knowing when to travel is key. It’s not the best idea to leave Wednesday afternoon and return on Sunday morning. That is when the roads and the airports are going to be the most crowded. The best day to travel, especially by car, is early in the morning on Thanksgiving day. That’s because most people with travel plans will have already traveled on Tuesday or Wednesday. If you need to leave town earlier, traveling after 9pm or before 9am is still a better bet to avoid crowds on the roads. If you are traveling by plane, you should try to book an early morning flight, preferably non-stop, to avoid cascading consequences of delays and cancellations. See more travel insights from CNN here.

woman in black long sleeve shirt covering her face with her hands
“Hurry up – the turkey’s getting cold!” Says every clueless family member outside of professional services. Photo by Elisa Ventur

Cut down on work stress

Working over the Thanksgiving Holiday may or may not be in your control. If you are an entrepreneur, you may feel as if you cannot afford to just check ouf of running your own business. For the corporate environment, we have all experienced the things that “blow up” right before a holiday – a deal that is closing, a new legislative package, a court case filing, exams coming up (if you are in grad school),  or a meeting that is scheduled the week you get back that you have to prep for. We also have the conundrum of what to do when our managers seem to be working over Thanksgiving, and your inbox is bombarded with to-do lists and assignments the Wednesday beforehand. 

The key in all of these scenarios is drawing boundaries. Unless you are in retail or your business is especially in a position to thrive over a holiday weekend, recognize that business will be slow over this weekend, and your energy spent on trying to get ahead or work with companies not in the US can rob you of a rare experience you have to bond with your family. In the corporate world, it may feel like everything is an emergency, and sometimes time is of the essence and just unavoidable. But try as hard as you can to check out Wednesday afternoon, and NOT check emails until after the holiday weekend, especially when there is nothing immediately coming up. Most of the time, things can get dealt with after the holiday, and everything else is just someone creating a false sense of urgency.

person slicing pie beside bread
Photo by Element5 Digital

How to avoid wolfing down everything that doesn’t move

Family stress and tensions are one of the biggest triggers for medicating with food and alcohol. Consider making family spent time quality time but a shorter time. We all know the feeling that you may have overstayed your welcome or vice versa. If you are traveling a longer distance, consider making the rest of the weekend a family or couple’s getaway at an air bnb. Or even consider hosting a “friendsgiving” before or after the family holiday because this will be in the company of people you choose to be with, and it can be something fun like a pot luck. Make plans to help out at a Soup kitchen or coat drive Thanksgiving day or the weekend after, so you can give back to your community and also have a reason not to hang around too long. No one should disparage you for doing your part to feed the community! 

Wear a tight fitting outfit: Think about it.There is nothing like a comfy pair of sweats or PJs to give you the illusion that you are not eating twice or three times what you normally would. You don’t have to be too extreme but a nice pair of fitted jeans (better yet, button fly) will help you be more cognizant of your stomach rapidly expanding.

Whether you are the host or the guest, you can make healthy versions of Thanksgiving  classics. Salads don’t look so tempting in the winter, but you can “winterize them”, for example, by adding cranberries (without the extra sugar), toasted pecans, beets and fennel. Turkey is the healthiest roasted, and jacket or mashed sweet potatoes can be a great alternative to traditional white mashed potatoes. If you want the white texture, you can also make cauliflower mashed potatoes. Finally, see below for my own take on Stove Top stuffing and green bean casserole. You can make apple pie with a whole grain crust, or a vegan version.  (the linked blog, Chocolate Covered Katie, is generally great for healthy dessert ideas). 

If you are the host: Take advantage of being able to make healthy substitutions and prepare healthier dishes. Some examples are:

Don’t hang out in the hot zones: The more time you spend in the kitchen, the more prone you will be to nibbling on prepped appetizers or “pitching in” to prepare and taste food. Imagne you are an alcoholic new in recovery – the last place you should hang out is a bar.

Be proactive about activity: Organize to join a Turkey Trot, or do your own. Or sign up for a yoga class to start the day. There will definitely be family members just as eager to get out of the house.

Don’t fall into the “scarcity trap.” Thanksgiving food doesn’ just magically appear for one week in November and then vanishes. You can buy all of this food and make it ANY time of year, or even have pre-made turkey meals.

Only fill your plate up ONCE, and do not feel compelled to join the “clean plate club” – The first thing that should go on your plate is salad. and then veggies, turkey, and in the little room that there is left, speciality sides. Chew slowly and pay attention to your hunger signals. The more you chat, the less you will eat. If you feel like you could take or leave one more bite, you have had enough. If you want to learn more about how to use the hunger scale to gauge your fullness, read my post on intuitive eating here.

Turkey and Gravy Dinner with Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans and Bread. This would otherwise be healthy if it wasn’t smothered in gravy! Photo by Catherine Murray @ Adobestock

Beware of condiment caloriebombs, and make smart substitutions. In my post about condiment caloriebombs, I explain that an otherwise healthy food can be “bombed” by the wrong condiments. Classic examples of these at Thanksgiving are cranberry sauce and gravy. Now, on its own, cranberry sauce is fat-free and a great source of antioxidants that can even CLEAR UP ACNE, but canned versions especially add a ton of unnecessary added sugar, making it basically like dipping your turkey in frosting.  Many recipes call for an entire cup of sugar. And pouring on that gravy can add hundreds of calories of mostly saturated fat. And with a large plate of food, it can skew your perception of what is actually a reasonable portion size. You can make a healthier version of cranberry sauce or gravy, which I have posted here in my recipes post. But other condiments go great with Thanksgiivng dishes, including ones that I have blogged about in my post about calorie-friendly condiments. Some examples of condiments I like to go with Thanksgiving food include hot sauce, (Texas Pete, Tabasco, or Cholula). If you are not familiar with Chutup continents, you should be. They make a beet ketchup, chutney, and peri-peri sauce (which is milder than traditional hot sauce).  

If you are the captive guest: Thanksgiving meals should not be any different than any other meals. Fill up half of your plate with salad and veggies, and then use this portion size guide we talked about in this post for the rest. A palmful of protein, then a cupped hand of starch. Realistically, you will probably have more than one starch, so a cupped hand of each. Now, the bread rolls can get tricky – especially when there is a steamy basket full of hot rolls being passed around. The first bite is always the best bite, so take a bite and then put it to the side, and then eat the rest of your meal. It’s likely you are not going to want to finish the roll after that.

woman in red sleeveless top holding wine glass
Photo by engin akyurt

Alcohol guide

The type of drink you choose is not as important as pacing yourself. Wine is the most common denominator, but we all know it can get creative with eggnog, pumpkin pie vodka, and hot toddies. Even if it is just wne, it is super easy to lose track of what you are drining and help yourself when the room is strewn with #bottleseverywhere. Here’s a couple of ways you can manage your drinking on Thanksgiving.

  • Don’t show up too early – a lot of the drinking takes place during the “idle” time while the meal prep is going on. 
  • Be a kitchen helper – the busier you are with the meal prep and helping out, the less time you have to sit around and drink. Plus what you will be drinking will be burned off through NEAT!
  • Have SOME kind of drink in your hand. Start with a non-alcoholic bevvy, and most people won’t question why you aren’t partaking in the festivities.
  • Be the designated driver, if you are a guest. If the meal includes an overnight stay, it still may be a good idea if you did drive to be positioned to leave in case things get dramatic. 
  •  Don’t be afraid to remove yourself for a while to take a break – but do so preferably not with scrollng through social. Down time is a great time to call a family member that couldn’t make it, or other friends or relatives. Take the dog for a walk. go play with the kids (which is more fun when they are not yours, and suprisingly a good cardio workout!).
woman in white tank top and white leggings bending her body
Even if it’s just a little morning stretching, you can definitely relieve stress and warmup with some morning stretches. Photo by Mathilde Langevin

Working out 

Given that a lot of people anticipate eating a heavy meal during Thanksgiving, hitting the gym is actually pretty popular. So it may be worth checking to see what your gym or local workout studio has going on – most places, rather than close the entire holiday, will have limited hours and close early, so you can at least workout in the morning. SoulcCylce, for example, has a turkeyburn 90 minute ride! Even if you don’t have access to a gym or workout studio, as long as you can have a mat’s space to move, you can get a high-intensity interval training workout (HIIT) in. This puts your body in a state of EPOC, which means exercise post-oxygen consumption. Meaning you will be burning calories all day long! If you are at a relatives or in-laws house, and are worried that you will wake everyone up doing burpees, consider doing these workouts without shoes and barefoot (which actually can really help your form and is a lot more hygenic) or accessing a free workout from Madfit, which is especially designed for people who live in small apartments or sleeping babies! 

Frontloading working out can be a good way to make the Thursday and Friday two consecutive rest days. The point of holidays are to rest, so as long as you don’t go overboard on all the feasting, you will be find with not working out for a couple of days. 

The post-holiday let down can be real. @giphy

The morning (and week after)

Manage post-holiday stress and blues

Even if the holiday was smooth sailing, there is the inevitable post-holiday letdown feeling. You can feel a little depressed, physically fatigued, or just stressed about going back to work. Here are some ways to stay upbeat:

  • Sign up for a new kind of workout class or race.
  • Watch feel-good movies like one of these rom-coms while deep conditioning your hair.
  • Volunteer for a good cause – this is really the season of giving. If you have leftovers, either from your own cooking or that you were sen home with, drop by the local church drive and homeless shelter and donate it. There are definitely people who can use that food and have not had the fortune of a home cooked meal. Many organizations, including local gyms, do clothing and coat drives.
  • Get your shopping done early, and in person. It will take a lot of the pressure off to have your holiday gift shopping done by the end of December. Shopping in person can also keep you more active. Now that many of us have more flexible working schedules, we have the option to shop in more off-peak hours (between 11am and 3pm on weekdays are usually the best time to go.). Putting more thought into someone than a gift card can take your mind off of stress and keep your spirits up.
  • All lightness aside, SAD is a real thing – so head over to my post about the Winter Blues for more coping mechanisms.

More resources

How to enjoy Thanksgiving and stick to fitness goals

Tips to Celebrate a Healthy Thanksgiving Day 2022

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