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For many centuries, Thanksgiving has been considered a national holiday in the U.S. and Canada to celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the preceding year. The traditions behind it have evolved from mythologized harvest feast in 1621 to a post-civil-war era patriotic and religious gathering. Now, every fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather around tables filled with typical foods like turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, and many others while sharing about things they’re most thankful for from the previous year. Others celebrate the holiday by watching a parade or a football game or even by running a 5K race.
For someone who has ongoing fitness or weight loss goals, the Thanksgiving period can be one of the hardest days to keep up with these goals. As per Calorie Control Council, a typical Thanksgiving dinner comprises about 3,000 calories and 150 grams of fat. Including the rest of the four-week holiday season, a person can have an average weight gain of one to five pounds. It may seem too little, but some people retain a portion of this weight gain permanently and add up every year.
While it may sound challenging to balance Thanksgiving celebrations and maintaining your fitness goals, experts assure you that it is possible to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast without feeling guilty.
Here are some tips below:
- Stay active
Planning a workout schedule before the festivity begins is essential. Creating a calorie deficit before the holiday will jump-start your metabolism and give you some time off to decompress after the holiday. Some outdoor activities that you could do are hiking, bike riding, brisk walking, running, skiing, and snowshoeing. You don’t need to do a 90-minute marathon, a 20-40 minute circuit workout is already enough to boost your metabolism and get you physically ready.
The secret formula to prevent weight gain during Thanksgiving is eating less and exercising more. You may increase your steps or prolong your fitness routine weeks ahead of the holiday, but most especially during the day.
Even if you are spending time with your family, staying active is not a problem because fitness can be a family adventure. For example, walking or playing football in the backyard with them is a great way to build memories and get energized after a big meal. This could even make room for dessert.
- Eat quality breakfast
While many people think it is logical to restrict calories in the morning to make up for the big meal later in the day, experts say that eating a small meal during breakfast can give you better control over your appetite. This thinking only sets you up for negative binge cycles. Alexandra Johnstone, the co-author of a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that those who consume the most calories in the morning felt less hungry compared to those who consume more calories in the evening meal.
Therefore, to keep your metabolism going and manage your hunger levels, starting the day strong with a quality breakfast—such as an egg with whole-wheat bread or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk—is essential. Other meal options could be salmon, protein smoothie, or breakfast hash with vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and bell peppers. Having been packed with calories throughout the day will allow you to be more discriminating in your food choices when you arrive at the gathering.
- Be smart about your food choices
Whether you are bringing a few dishes to share for the gathering or you’re the one hosting the Thanksgiving dinner, making healthier recipes with less fat and sugar is the best option for staying fit. Using low-calorie alternative ingredients does not mean that the dish will not be as good. For example, you may use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey, sugar substitutes instead of table sugar, and fruit purees in place of oil in baked goods. Also, instead of using normal stuffing for the turkey, sneaking in some veggies inside and using whole-wheat bread makes the recipe healthier. For creamy dips and mashed potatoes, you may use plain Greek yogurt instead of full-fat cream and butter. For a complete article on healthy Thanksgiving recipes, check Healthy Thanksgiving Options.
In addition to healthier recipes, a smart food choice is about picking the right food from the table. Choose the foods that you will enjoy the most and make a small taste of everything to satisfy your craving.
- Police your portions
When you think about a Thanksgiving dinner, you would often imagine the table with a glistening turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, and crisp apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a taste of each one!
Before you fill your plate, survey the table and choose your favorites and those that you don’t normally eat year long. Fill your plate with portions of reasonable sizes to be able to enjoy traditional foods.
- Skip the seconds
Try to resist the temptation of going for a second plate. Limiting yourself to one plate will lower the chances of overeating and will make room for a satisfying dessert. Also, some leftovers are better the next day.
- Slow down and enjoy what you eat
It could be tempting to plunge and gobble everything down, but taking time to chew and appreciate the food is helpful in satisfying cravings and hunger. This can prevent overeating by allowing the brain to take time to register satiety or feeling of fullness. Normally, it takes about 20 minutes for the body to register satiety. Stop when you are satisfied and not when you are “stuffed”.
- Drink plenty of water and go easy on alcohol
This advice is not only useful for everyday life, but also for holidays. Many of the Thanksgiving food you consume contains high amounts of sodium. Drinking plenty of water will help flush this out. Aside from this, having enough water in the body help you feel more energized and edge off your hunger.
Don’t also forget that alcohol calories can add up quickly. Drinking water between alcoholic drinks will not only let you stay hydrated but also sober.
- Focus on family and friends
Thanksgiving celebration is not just about plunging into the delicious bounty of food. It is also an occasion to spend quality time with family and friends. During the feast, you and your loved ones may brainstorm ideas on what you can do together—physical activities, for example.