“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” -Jim Davis, creator of Garfield
On the eve of a holiday that is centered around the largest meal most of us will consume this year, it’s hard to ignore thoughts of abnormally sized turkeys, every format of potato imaginable, your family’s version of StoveTop™, and a plethora of sauces and spreads for every variety of baked bread imaginable. In the hierarchy of food centric holidays, Thanksgiving is king. For many of us, the warmth and joy we associate with the holidays is not solely tied to the dining table, but to long standing family traditions and the opportunity for an extended weekend of R&R. During periods of time like this that throw us out of our routine, it’s helpful to have a plan. For that reason, I thought it appropriate to provide a survival guide to keep the kick-off feast to the holiday season from becoming a catalyst for a less welcome annual tradition of derailing your diet.
There are a few simple ways to prepare for what most of us will consider a “write-off” on our dietary balance sheet. To be clear, I’m not referring solely to Thanksgiving, but to the 30-40 days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. A marathon of libation and finger food filled events subsequently followed by feelings of guilt and shame that lead the vast majority of Americans to resolve to lose 10-20 lbs. in the month of January before falling back into their old routines. To avoid this madness, here are a few helpful tips:
- Pick Your Battles – the time to start deliberating over whether or not to eat more carbohydrates is not when the pumpkin pie is being passed around the table. Go into celebration days fully aware that you will be surrounded by temptation and will be far more predisposed to make decisions about food that you might otherwise not under normal circumstances. Rather than fighting this, ACCEPT IT, but do so consciously. It’s okay to throw inhibitions to the wind once in a while and Thanksgiving is a great day to do it. Just limit it to that day versus eating leftover cranberry sauce and turkey slathered in gravy for the following week.
- Know Your Nutrients – not all of the typical fare served at holiday feasts is detrimental. In fact some of it has redeeming qualities. Try to load up on the nutrient dense items in your first helping before reaching for dessert. This includes turkey, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and any green leafy salad or vegetables that your weird vegan aunt might sneak into the mix. Chances are, you are going to consume far more calories than you typically would, so you might as well start with the calories with quality nutrients before reaching for the breads, spreads, and pies.
- Get Off Your Seat and On Your Feet – depending on how you celebrate, there is a good chance you will be sitting, or at least stationary, more than usual during holiday celebrations. Try standing up or mingling with guests by making your way around the room once every hour. The goal isn’t to treat it as exercise, but simply to keep your blood flowing and perhaps get your hands out of the chips and dip at the side table. Added bonus – this tip can be applied to everyday life.
- Get Back on Track or Explore a New One – most of us go into the last month of the year with an idea of when and where we will be celebrating the holidays. Plan accordingly. Even if you have ten holiday parties to attend between now and the end of the year, deciding which of those days are going to be “throw away” days and which will be more disciplined will help you develop a plan in advance. Even if you are taking time off, try to make time for physical activity on your vacation days. Taking a vacation from the office doesn’t need to mean taking a vacation from exercise. Instead, find ways to switch up your routine by working out at different times throughout the day than you’re used to or trying a new activity (even if that’s just walking in the park). Not only will this offer an opportunity to experiment, you may even elicit a stronger metabolic response from your body by throwing a curve ball in your exercise routine and forcing your body to adapt.
This list is not meant to be all inclusive, but it should serve as a common sense guide to making it through the holiday season without the need for too much damage control. You may be surprised at the simplicity of some of these tips. We have a tendency to make things more complex than they often need to be. Nutrition is no exception. Often times simple steps taken consistently over a long period of time will lead to the type of change that is not only effective, but sustainable.
As a final thought, thank you to all of you that take the time to follow me and view my content. I can’t put into words how my personal health and fitness journey has changed my life and as a health coach it is a true honor to be able to help others discover their own path to a better life. Thank you to all of you for your continued support and encouragement. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!
Important Disclaimer: I want to take a moment to recognize the fact that the need for a “Survival Guide” for the holidays is very much a first world problem. Spending time with loved ones and celebrating traditions is near and dear to me, but I find it equally important to acknowledge that those privileges are not afforded to everyone, and I do not take that lightly. I am eternally grateful to live in a country and come from a place where I have such positive associations with the holidays. I also view this time of year as an opportunity to give to those that don’t enjoy those associations or that may be facing hardships at a time when so many of us are celebrating. I hope you’ll have time during the holidays to take a break from the hectic pace of life and in doing so find time to reflect on how we can all serve those that are less fortunate. We all have something to be grateful for, but the degree to which we have to dig to find our source of gratitude varies widely from one person to the next. As you celebrate over the holidays, find a way to make it easier for someone to experience that gratitude.