• How to have your healthiest Thanksgiving Ever

How to Have Your Healthiest Thanksgiving Ever

Although it’s hard to believe, the holidays are upon us. Most people feel officially kicked into holiday mode once Thanksgiving has come and gone, and what a wonderful time it can be! Friends, family, travel, vacations, and lots and lots of overindulgence. Whether that take the form of food, booze and/or a total lack of physical activity, you might dread leaving this beloved holiday season with about 10 extra pounds and a new years resolution you’re wondering how to even start.

This year, why not start off with a healthy (yet still satisfying) Thanksgiving?

That doesn’t mean deprivation, it simply means learning how to practice a bit of self-control, choose foods and recipes that won’t pack on the pounds, stay (relatively) active and also know what to do in case you do go overboard (because lets face it, it happens to the best of us).

Read on to learn some tips and tricks on how to feel good going into this holiday season, and kick things off right with a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.

Week of Thanksgiving Exercise Ideas

thanksgiving Exercises

While nutrition definitely has a greater impact on weight gain and loss than exercise, staying active during the holidays is important for several reasons. One, working out will naturally encourage you to make much healthier eating choices. Two, it can seriously boost your mental health. More and more evidence is building up that proves exercise’s powerful effect on mood, and according to the American Psychological Association, we tend to feel our mood boosted as little as 5 minutes post-exercise. Whether you’re at home or surrounded by a crazy extended family, this can make for an all-around much healthier holiday.

If you’re traveling or not at home, this can present a challenge. Here, we’ve created a week’s worth of exercise that you can do anywhere, whether you’re in a hotel, staying at a friend or family’s extra bedroom, or simply at home but not wanting to venture out. These ideas are quick and easy, but can leave you feeling ready to make healthier choices, not to mention maintain your sanity (always a good thing).

4-Day Workout Plan

This plan includes 4, body-weight resistance training circuits. Remember that muscle is more metabolically active than fat, and burns far more calories when at rest. That means that when you focus your exercise on weight training instead of just cardio, you are setting yourself up for increased fat loss , 24/7. On the days in between resistance training, you are encouraged to choose from doing 30 minutes of one of the following activities:

  • Briskly walking
  • Jogging/running
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Biking
  • Any other cardio activity you enjoy (playing with your kids, for example)

For the resistance workouts, repeat all circuits of 5 exercises 3-5 times (depending on the time you have and your fitness level). Allow yourself 2-3 minutes rest in between circuits. Rest in between individual exercises as needed, but try to go from one to the next without too much pause. If you’re unsure of how to do some of these movements, you can find excellent examples of each easily on youtube or other online sources.

DAY 1

  1. 10 Push-ups
  2. 10 Reverse Alternating Lunges
  3. 6 Inchworms (standing to plank and back to standing)
  4. 30-second wall sit
  5. 30-second plank

DAY 2

  1. 12 bodyweight squats
  2. 30 seconds of mountain climbers (in plank position)
  3. 30 seconds bicycle crunches
  4. 10 Alternating lateral lunges
  5. 1-minute jumping jacks

DAY 3

  1. 10 regular or modified burpees
  2. 10 alternating forward lunges
  3. 10 tricep dips using chair
  4. 10 plank forearm to palm
  5. 1-minute jump rope (or just jumping as if you had a jump rope)

DAY 4

  1. Supermans, 10 reps
  2. Arm Circles (20 each direction)
  3. Bodyweight Squats, 10 reps
  4. Side Plank, 20-second hold each side
  5. 30 seconds high knees (sprint!)

Food/Recipe selection tips

Here, we’ve compiled some Thanksgiving Recipe Round-Ups that are sure to boost the healthiness factor of your holiday (not to mention give you some new, delicious ideas). The  great thing about making better food choices around the holidays is that you can still indulge in the same mouth-watering and traditional dishes (ok, maybe minus the marshmallow sweet potatoes), by simply adding new and omitting old ingredients.

Try out some of the new recipes you’ll find here, and you might just be surprised that they turn into new favorites! By simply preparing healthier Thanksgiving dishes (or offering to bring one or two if eating at someone else’s house), you’re sure to have better options to choose from.

Booze selection

The good news is that you don’t have to give up alcohol around the holidays to be healthy, although moderation is important. Remember that alcohol definitely can (and will) lead to weight gain, among other potentially harmful side effects, so make sure to drink alongside food, have water or club soda in between drinks and choose the right kind of booze.

Which Drinks to Avoid

Certain types of alcohol will pack on the pounds more than others, so here is the list of booze and drinks to definitely avoid or minimize:

Beer

Beer is much higher in carbohydrates and calories than other choices, and will not only make you feel bloated but will also pack on those holiday pounds. If you’re just having one, you’re probably okay, but drinking a lot of beer for multiple days will likely leave you feeling not-so-healthy.

Sugary cocktails

Most mixers that come with cocktails are best avoided, as they are often packed with sugar and other harmful chemicals, coloring agents, etc. It is better to stick with cocktails that contain only a few ingredients that are free of added sugars. Not to mention, this will improve any potential hangover you might have the next day.

Some common examples of these types of cocktails include margaritas, pina coladas, mudslides and martinis. Specific mixers to avoid include sodas, syrups, diet sodas, tonic water and energy drinks (just to name a few).

Wine coolers

This is an easy one to explain, as they are simply packed with sugar. This category also includes hard lemonade (like Mikes), Smirnoff Ice, etc.

Liqueurs

Flavored liquor (liqueurs) also have a very high sugar content. Stick to plant-based, sugar-free or low-sugar, gluten-free liquor options.

Ciders with added sugar

While certain hard ciders are better than others (ones that are fermented, for example), many brands are quite high in sugar. Dry ciders are typically lower, and brands that are particularly high in added sugars include Angry Orchards, Wyders and Woodchuck. We’ll get into some better options below.

Which Drinks to Choose

Wine

While there is some disagreement in the health world about how much you can actually benefit from wine (some studies show that the antioxidant, resveratrol, found in red wine can prevent damage to blood vessels), it is one of your better options. White wine does not offer the same health benefits, but those who are sensitive to the tannins in red wine might do better with white.

The key to drinking wine is to remember that one serving equals 4-5 oz, so drinking the whole bottle isn’t really the idea.

Champagne

Champagne is simply wine that has been fermented a second time, therefore making it more carbonated. In fact, 4 oz. of champagne has only 1 gram of carbohydrate and zero grams of sugar, so it isn’t a bad option, either.

Potato Vodka

Vodka is a distilled spirit that is made by fermenting either grains, potatoes or sugars and fruits. Potato vodka is popular in the Paleo diet community, and great brands include Voyd and Blair, Chopin, Blue Ice, Cold River and Monopolowa (among others).

Regular Vodka, Rum, Gin or Whiskey

These spirits come in second to potato vodka, but are obviously more commonly found when you’re out. They are totally gluten free, are relatively low in carbohydrates and are sugar free, as well.

Mezcal or Tequila

Tequila and mezcal are close cousins, as both are derived from the agave plant. They are gluten free, sugar free and very low carbohydrate, and one of the best booze options out there.

Low Sugar Hard Ciders

As discussed above, a low sugar hard cider can be a great option. Cider is a fermented alcoholic beverage that comes from fruit (usually from apples or pears), and some great, lower sugar brands include Colorado, ACE, Strongbow and Crispin Ciders. Remember, the drier, the better.

Which Mixers Are Safe and Low Calorie

  • Club soda
  • Fresh lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange juice
  • Muddled herbs such as basil, ginger and mint
  • Fresh fruit and veggies
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut water
  • Coffee
  • Honey (in moderation)

Cooking healthier

Learning some basic rules of how to make your cooking healthier isn’t only important during the holidays. Consider a few swaps/substitutions and considerations for making your Thanksgiving meal less caloric and more nutrient dense this year:

Replace white flour with a flour alternative: Unfortunately, a lot of traditional Thanksgiving dishes are prepared with white flour (pies, cakes, gravy, biscuits, etc). Instead, opt for recipes that call for whole wheat flour, almond flour, coconut flour or tapioca flour. If you absolutely must use white flour in a recipe, try doing half and half (half white, half whole wheat, for example).

Replace refined/white sugar with a healthier sweetener: Most all recipes that call for white sugar (aka, refined or table sugar) can easily be replaced with a healthier option. The best alternatives are raw honey and grade b or c maple syrup, but other options include coconut sugar and stevia (although stevia can be tricky in baking), or use natural fruit juice or fruit.

Use flax meal or almond meal instead of bread crumbs

Use flax meal or almond meal instead of bread crumbs: If an item needs to be breaded, use flax or almond meal instead of bread crumbs.

Use unsweetened coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s milk: Unless you’re using whole, organic cow’s milk (or even raw straight from the farm), try substituting an unsweetened coconut or almond milk.

Replace rancid oils with healthy oils and fats: In general (not just on Thanksgiving) avoid processed vegetable oils like canola, corn, soy and grapeseed, as they have been linked to increased rates of heart disease, along with other serious conditions. Instead, choose healthy oils like coconut oil, organic butter and ghee (all of these options great for cooking). For salads, try olive or flax oils.

Day of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Foods

The big day is here, and here are some specifics on how to sail through it as smoothly (and healthfully) as possible:

Don’t freak out

First and foremost, don’t stress yourself out to the point of panic. If you do go overboard and make less-than-healthy decisions, the world will not end. And, you’ve confirmed why you want to do a better job, next time.

Exercise in the morning

Engaging in some sort of exercise the morning of Thanksgiving can make a world of difference in your eating choices. Feeling like you’ve started the day off right can set the tone for navigating holiday madness to come. In many cities, there are Turkey Trots which raise money for hungry families. Consider starting this tradition with a 5k.

Eat healthy meals as normal (no starving yourself)

A classic Thanksgiving mistake is to skip breakfast and ignore all other hunger signs your body is sending in order to “save up” for the big meal. This is basically a recipe for serious binge eating and bad food choices, so be sure to eat a well balanced and adequate breakfast, with a healthy snack or two later on, if needed. Try 2 poached eggs, 1/2 sliced avocado and 1 cup of berries for breakfast, or a 1/2 (dried) cup serving of oatmeal with fruit and flax seeds.

Host or prepare several healthy dishes to share

The more you cook, the more control you have over the types of dishes available to choose from. If you aren’t hosting, volunteer to bring several of your favorite dishes, which means you’ll have at least some healthier options.

During the meal, chew your food thoroughly and put your fork down in between bites

It takes our brains about 20 minutes to register fullness, and our food must be thoroughly chewed for our digestive system to function properly (speaking of proper digestion, a good probiotic should definitely be part of your Thanksgiving week). Chew your food until it is a mush in your mouth before swallowing, and put your fork down in between bites. This can make a massive difference in your overall calorie intake, and you are likely to find that you are satisfied before going in for seconds (or thirds).

If you binged a bit too hard

Healthy recipes or not, it’s challenging not to over-indulge on Thanksgiving. If you binged just a little (or a lot) too hard, consider doing a 3-5 day, food-based sugar cleanse. Here are lists of foods to avoid and which to include.

Avoid:

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), Honey, Maple syrup, Molasses, Agave syrup
  • Date, palm, and coconut sugar
  • Fruit & fruit juice
  • Stevia
  • All packaged/processed foods (if it has an ingredient list, avoid it)
  • Refined carbohydrates including bread, bagels, brownies, cakes, candy, cereal, chips, cookies, crackers, cupcakes, muffins, oats, pasta, spaghetti, pastries, pizza, popcorn, tortillas, and couscous.
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol

Include:

  • All meat (opt for grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised whenever possible)
  • Wild caught fish
  • All vegetables except potatoes
  • Raw nuts and seeds and their butters including almonds, walnuts, pecans, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds.
  • Whole grains in moderation
  • Good fats including avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, olive, sesame and flax oils.
  • Herbal teas
  • Unsweetened almond and coconut milk
  • Coconut water

Snacks can be the toughest part of a cleanse, so check out these 10, detox-friendly snacks:

  • 1 small handful of almonds with a green apple
  • Plain full-fat yogurt (or 1 low fat greek yogurt), sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Organic deli turkey with a few slices of avocado and shredded carrot
  • 1 small handful of walnuts with a hard boiled egg, sprinkled with sea salt
  • Kale chips (make at home or buy at the store, no sugar added)
  • Guacamole with chopped vegetables
  • A small portion of leftover lunch or dinner
  • Wild smoked salmon (lox)
  • Grass fed organic salmon or beef jerky
  • Seaweed snacks (no sugar added)

Mental health too!

One major player that we haven’t mentioned yet in the quest to have the healthiest Thanksgiving ever is mental health. Stress negatively affects our hormones, which in turn affects our self-control, exercise performance, and ability to lose or maintain our weight.

As far as weight management goes, we can thank our primary stress hormone, cortisol (which can be thought of as a fat storage hormone) for helping us gain fat around the midsection. Fighting against our hormones in the weight loss battle is one you are unlikely to win, and stress management is key.

Thanksgiving isn’t a time to strive for perfection, but it also shouldn’t be a time that brings your year’s health and fitness goals to a screeching halt.

Managing stress (especially around the holidays) is easier said than done, and different approaches will work best for different people. Think about the stresses you have during Thanksgiving, which you might have the power to change, and what you need to do to make those changes happen. Perhaps this means saying no to hosting this year, asking friends and family for help, taking a day or two extra off work, or carving out a bit of time each day for exercise, meditation or just 10 minutes of deep breathing. And remember that the simple act of eliminating inflammatory, processed foods and replacing them with real, whole foods can decrease stress in and of itself, and give your body the tools it needs to better manage stress.

By making a few changes this year, you can set yourself up for a healthy and happy Thanksgiving, without the post-holiday guilt. Make time for exercise, add a few healthy recipes to your repertoire, promote healthy digestion with probiotics, choose healthier booze and drink it in moderation, and consider what you can do to decrease stress.

Thanksgiving isn’t a time to strive for perfection, but it also shouldn’t be a time that brings your year’s health and fitness goals to a screeching halt.

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