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The 6 Do’s and Don’ts of a Healthy (and Delicious) Thanksgiving


When it comes to healthful eating, Thanksgiving can feel like a landmine of temptations. Not to mention the first day of a slippery slope into the holidays.  Most of our problems occur when we either don’t put any thought into the day or follow some extreme advice that get’s us in trouble.  Skip the fitspo and try these 6 Do’s and Don’ts on for size.  You just may find that you can enjoy your Thanksgiving AND not be paying for it until 2018.

DON’T save your calories

The typical strategy for big eating days is to either eat light or not at all earlier in the day to save your calories for the larger meal.  Although I can certainly understand where this idea comes from, this is EXACTLY what you shouldn’t do.  When you restrict earlier in the day you are 100% guaranteeing that you are going to have a binge at dinner.  Moreover you will probably be so hungry that you will inhale the food rather than tasting it and go from starving to sick in a matter of minutes.  This breaks my heart because Thanksgiving dinner is amazing!!  Yes, Thursday will most likely be a more indulgent eating day but our bodies can handle excess from time to time.  If you eat normally earlier in the day you will eat less at the actual dinner and enjoy it more.

DO have breakfast AND lunch

This is especially important if you are cooking or hosting Thanksgiving dinner.  Oftentimes we get so busy preparing that we skip eating altogether.  Make sure you plan to have a good breakfast and even a lunch.  I know that we typically have dinner a bit earlier on Thanksgiving, which can make it confusing.  However, I promise you will still be hungry if you have something to eat a few hours prior.  The only thing you may miss is finding yourself at the bottom of the chip bowl 😉

DON’T fill your plate

Typically at holiday dinners, we build one enormous plate of food. It is piled high in a way that defies gravity and, if broken apart, could most likely feed a family of four. Then we sit down and eat the whole thing. Regardless of whether we like it or are even still hungry, we eat every last bit simply because it’s there. You can blame the clean plate club, or starving children in [insert country], or the belief that starting tomorrow we may never see turkey and mashed potatoes again. Whatever the reason, the end result is eating until we are sick and oftentimes not even enjoying all the food we eat.

DO plan on having seconds and thirds

This year, I want you to grab a very small amount of everything during the first go-around. It may seem silly or look funny in comparison to the leaning tower of Hawaiian rolls on your family member’s plate, but don’t worry! This isn’t the end of your meal. After you finish that plate, go back for seconds and grab your absolute favorites. When you are done, if you are still hungry, go back for thirds. You can go back as many times as you would like as long as you are still legitimately hungry.

What you will find is that, even with all the trips, you end up eating less than you would have with one giant plate. You also give your body a little time to register that it’s full so you don’t finish your delicious meal with antacids.

DON’T think you have to “earn the bird”

Most Thanksgiving eating strategies will encourage you to exercise earlier in the day to make up for the excess that you are going to eat at dinner.  You’ll see the hashtag #earnthebird all over social media and if you listen really carefully you will hear me screaming with frustration from miles away!

Now please don’t hear this as me discouraging you from exercise (nice try).  In fact, I have a long standing tradition of going on a hike Thanksgiving morning.  However, I encourage it because it feels good and is a great time to spend with people you care about and be thankful.  Exercise is not something that you must do to earn food, nor does it entitle you to eat your Aunt Sally out of house and home.  You get to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner simply because you are you and you have people that love you.  That’s that.

DO remember why you are there

Thanksgiving dinner is delicious.  In fact someone asked me just yesterday what I was most excited about and I don’t even think they finished their question before I blurted out mashed potatoes.  Yes, I’m a nutritionist but I also have taste buds and a soul.  Having said that, it’s really not the purpose of the day.  It is a time to spend with people that you care about, slow down and really feel thankful.  Yes, food can be a beautiful part of the day but if you find yourself completely focused on what you are eating that is a good signal pause, put your fork down and look around at everything that you can be grateful for.  Then, of course, you can get back to the mashed potatoes.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoy!

Simon Maage

  1. Love this! I especially love your thoughts on “earn the bird.” I haven’t heard of that but I once heard “Exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate,” and it really resonated with me. I fully agree with you on all these points!

  2. Thank you so much, Nicole! It’s not us vs. food or us vs. exercise – we are all in it together;) I hope you are having a great holiday season!!

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