How to eat smart on Thanksgiving

Oct 31, 2022


Worried about what the holidays will do to your waistline? You’re not alone. Many people head into their Thanksgiving feasts more than a little concerned about what piles of rich food and desserts will do to their best lifestyle intentions.

This, in turn, leads to last-minute crash diets and panicked exercise. “One of the saddest things I see around the holidays are people feeling like they have to be 110% on their nutrition and exercise leading up to the events in order to enjoy the holiday eating and festivities,” says Ashlyn Howie, a primary care provider with Adventist Health Portland. “Then they go on the next day and feel the need to ‘work off’ all the calories.”

Ashlyn points out holiday food is meant to be a social pleasure. Instead of fretting about which kind of pie has a little less sugar or the healthiest way to prepare turkey, “during the holiday season emphasis should be on enjoyment, family and celebrating the season,” she says.

With that in mind, Ashlyn offers five tips to help you keep your holiday feasting focused on fun instead of guilt.

Tips to keep Thanksgiving on track

1. Don’t punish yourself

Ashlyn says you do not need to "work for" your food just because it is the holiday season. “Try to keep your normal workout routine, but do not stress about missed days,” she says. She adds Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to do a local Turkey Trot run/walk with family and friends to bond before the big meal.

2. Eat everything in moderation

“You can eat whatever you want on Thanksgiving or any holiday,” Ashlyn says. “Just make sure to fill most of your plate with vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Take smaller portions of fatty cuts of meat, dessert and higher fat side dishes like sweet potato pie.” She also recommends chatting with your loved ones while you eat to increase your social enjoyment while helping pace yourself on the food.

3. Do not fast 

Do not fast in preparation for a holiday meal as this could lead to overeating. Instead, Ashlyn recommends starting your day with a filling breakfast like oatmeal and fruit or scrambled eggs with a vegetable. Keep lunch on the lighter side and then enjoy your holiday dinner. “You do not eat holiday meals daily, so it is okay to indulge,” she shares. “Just make sure to fill most of your plate as indicated in Tip 2.”

4. Invest yourself socially

If you tend to have Thanksgiving alone, consider going to an event with church members or co-workers or invite a friend out for dinner. Use the opportunity to make new memories.

5. Reduce temptation 

By using leftovers to prepare lunches or dinner for the next several days and reflect on something that brought you joy during the holiday season each time you have your meal.

6. Watch the alcohol

We tend to talk a lot more about calories than the health and social dangers of overdoing the alcohol. “I’d be more concerned about the excessive drinking that some people partake in versus seconds or thirds of dessert,” Ashlyn says.

If you forget some of these tips and find yourself feeling overstuffed and crummy on Thanksgiving evening, Ashlyn has some great advice: “Don’t sweat it!”

She recommends you drink plenty of water, get moving and add healthy habits to your next meal. “One big meal doesn’t have to throw your whole day or week off,” she says. “Exercise and healthy eating should be done year-round and a part of everyone’s life in some way, but you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel to enjoy the season.”

To help you jump-start your holidays, Ashlyn suggests trying this nutrient-dense winter salad

If you’d like more tips for improving your health all year long, you can make an appointment with Ashlyn Howie or another Adventist Health Portland primary care provider by calling us at 503-261-6929.