Thanksgiving – the holiday in which we gorge ourselves on food and alcohol so rich we have to be pried from the couch in a semi-comatose state only to wake up thinking “What the hell did I just do to myself?”

Well fellow food and libation lovers, it does. not. have. to. be. like. that.

I’m here to tell you that yes, you can have your grandma’s homemade biscuits, some of your mother in law’s pie (that if you don’t at least try, you’ll be suffering til next Thanksgiving) and toast to your football team with your favorite/crazy uncle.

The key to all of this is my food mantra: moderation. Thanksgiving is the kickoff of a two month period of celebrations. If you set the standard at turkey day, you’ll likely ring in the new year feeling like you rode the wheels off your holiday season without feeling deprived.

The concept of moderation, as I see it, is pretty simple: enjoy the food flavors and sensations you love but not to an extreme.  Everyone has their favorite food and drink. These should be consumed when you can truly enjoy them. If you find yourself wolfing down pasta marinara while chasing your toddler to get them to take just one freaking bite, you may find yourself going back to the pot because you feel like you didn’t get that feeling you get when you sit down and savor it.  

Plan Plan Plan
Having a strategy to handle all the delicious temptations that will be bombarding you is important.  If you know you’re the kind of person who will attack that buffet like a bear prepping for hibernation (nothing wrong with that by the way), simple strategies like knowing what time the big meal will be served and even a general idea of what’s being served goes a long way. For example, if you know the big meal is hitting the table at four o’clock, you can fit in a workout and make yourself a healthy lunch before taking on the bird and all it’s trimmings.

Incorporate Movement
Perhaps you can fit in a light workout before the big meal, even something as simple as a brisk walk or a short yoga session will get your metabolism up and running.  Are there going to be kids at your family meal? Play a game of tag if the weather is amenable, or perhaps hide and seek if it isn’t. All adults? Toss the old pigskin around for a bit.  Even helping set the table will keep you moving and keep your metabolism at the ready. Pets? Who does not love playing with a dog?

Pro Tip: The average person burns 400 calories running a 5K – the equivalent of one slice of pumpkin pie or one stout beer! 

Hydrate Like a Boss
Drinking water throughout the big day can not only counteract some of the dehydration brought on by your favorite stout, it can help keep you full and increase your resting metabolism.  Yes, plain water can be really damned boring for some. Grab some of the whole cranberries that are sure to be on every table this year and drop them into your water with some lime. If it tastes good, you’ll want to drink it!

Breakfast of Champions
Do not skip breakfast, people!  I cannot tell you how many people tell me they skip a meal to “save calories” or “to avoid overeating”.  This is absolutely false and in fact does the exact opposite. By skipping meals, you’re actually slowing your metabolism down.  And if you’re like me, the smell of all the food you’re about to demolish makes it harder to stop eating. You’re pretty much guaranteed to be passed out under the dinner table or unable to fit into your pants.  To counter this, have a well balanced meal high in protein and fiber: a hard boiled egg with yogurt (Greek is great, but if you’re like me and can’t stomach it, a yogurt high in protein and low in sugar works, too) and banana is a great example.  

Does your family do apps like mine?  I sometimes wonder why, since the big meal is the star, but I suppose this is a buffer in case the bird takes a bit longer to cook and avoids hungry guests launching a coup and “strip searching mice for a piece of cheese”, to quote a favorite television character (bonus points if you know who!).
This can be a bit tricky, since you may not have planned for this.  Trust your gut here. If you’re not hungry from your healthy lunch but often give into temptation, distract yourself (see Incorporate Movement).  But, if something catches your eye and makes you drool in anticipation of the goodness that’s about to pop off in your mouth, go for it, in moderation.  Have one (okay, two, but that’s it) and back away slowly. Depriving yourself will make you feel like you missed out and you may overindulge at the big meal that’s coming.  If you can, have your apps with enough time to get some movement in before sitting down to the next phase of your meal.

Turkey Time
So, you’ve done all your planning, you’ve drunk your water and played a rousing game of tag with your nephews, nieces and Fido and it’s time to sit down to the meal that kicks off the holiday season.  The tone of the entire holiday season rides on this meal. You don’t want to mess this up.
To get the most out of your plate, prioritize the real estate as follows:

  • Protein: 3 ounces of turkey (or roast beef if that’s your thing) is about the size of your palm.
  • Veggies: Whether it be brussels sprouts, roasted vegetable medley or cranberry walnut salad (perhaps all three!) aim for a total serving the size of your fist.
  • Starches: Everyone usually has rolls, sweet potatoes or traditional mashed potatoes being passed around. Don’t take more than what would fit in your cupped hand.
  • Gravies, butter and all the fat that makes things so damned good: Look at your thumb; that’s all she wrote.
  • Wine, Beer or Whatever You Toast with: No one I know (including me), measures what’s poured.  My rule of thumb is no more than half the normal sized glass. Then consume double that amount of water. 

Now, let’s say you have one thing that you look forward to eating every Thanksgiving that holds a special place on your plate and in your heart.  For me, it was my Grandma’s stuffing. Eat it! Just keep in mind the ratios on your plate. Thanksgiving is about warmth and love through food. Go get that love!  

Dessert Indulgence
If you have any kind of room left after your turkey, dessert is probably the most difficult course to manage.  I admit, I am a sucker for a good pumpkin pie. My best advice for this is to pick what your soul is craving at that moment, and have a single serving.  Using my pumpkin pie as an example: one pie has 8 servings. Want whipped cream? Take half of that single serving of pie. I like my pie way too much to take less for whipped cream, just saying.

Pro Tip:
Take quarter servings of each dessert to sample everything and not miss out!

Oh, and let’s not forget leftovers (perhaps the best part of this day) – if you ate something you must have again, take a serving to go.

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family, gathering around the table and sharing thankfulness and gratitude through food.  If I had to pick a favorite holiday, this would be it. I love everything about it: the smells bring back memories, updated recipes make new ones and the warmth around the table isn’t just from the food.
I hope these tips help you make the best of your holiday!  Go forth, eating with love and moderation.

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