Only 1 week and 1 day until Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is one of my personal favorite holidays; what could be better than getting together with friends & family, enjoying good food, and of course, watching football! The freedom to be able to enjoy all those things is something I am extremely thankful for.
However, for a lot of people, Thanksgiving (and the other fall and winter holidays) can pose a big challenge. These holidays represent high amounts of stress due to food temptations and not being able to stick to their normal routines. For example, people who have diabetes often struggle to maintain control of their blood sugars because of all the “sweet treats” available, not to mention all the starchy foods! And of course people who are working on losing weight often suffer set backs during this time. Then there are those with food allergies who have to be careful, while trying to enjoy food made by other people who may not be as mindful of their allergies. What should these folks do?
There are tools to manage “food stressors” during the holiday season, that are often suggested for people with diabetes, yet can easily be used by people who are working on weight loss as well. One tool is to practice what is referred to as the “plate method.” Ideally you would be using a plate no larger than 9 inches in diameter. You fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (preferably not loaded with extra fat!), a quarter of your plate with carbohydrate (such as a potato, rice, pasta, etc.), and the other quarter with protein. This leaves you with 2 additional “carbohydrate choices” to choose from. This could be in the form of a side roll, a small dessert or fruit salad. If there is a “buffet” that includes several types of “starch” or carbohydrate items that you would like to choose, try to limit your portion sizes to ¼ cup each (1 carbohydrate choice for most “scoop-able” items is half a cup). That way you can still limit your TOTAL carbohydrate choices to 3 per meal.
If you suffer from food allergies, tell the hostess what foods you need to avoid. Make sure you also bring something with you that is safe for you to eat. That way if the host is unable to prepare foods that are suitable for you, you will still have something to enjoy during the festivities.
My family has what most Americans think of as “typical” food for the holiday: turkey and dressing, rolls, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. We usually have some other items too, but these vary year to year. Some of these additions include pecan pie, banana/blueberry pie (my personal contribution, which is a recipe I got from a college roommate years ago that I have made slight modifications to), fruit salad, carrot soufflé, broccoli casserole, garlic biscuits, etc. Because I am a registered dietitian/coach/HFS, I am the designated “healthy cook” in the family. I always try to make sure whatever items I am contributing are reduced fat (if not low fat), and reduced sugar. This enables our friends and family to have some “healthy options” to choose from, in addition to all the other “treats” that are sure to grace the table.
Another important tip is to not forget what the "spirit" of Thanksgiving is. A lot of us lose sight of what we are truly celebrating and end up focusing solely on food and sales! Let’s all try to remember the reason for the holiday and to be thankful for where we are at in life. No matter how “bad” things may get, there is always something we can be thankful for. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the holiday, here is a good short story on the subject.
You may also want to consider volunteering with friends or family members at a local shelter that serves Thanksgiving meals to the underserved. This is another good way to remind ourselves of how much we have to be thankful for.
If you can, participate in some kind of fun run or walk. A lot of cities hold “turkey trots” on Thanksgiving Day that allow you to get in some exercise before eating. If that is just not possible, try to enjoy some type of physical activity a couple of hours after the big meal; go for a walk, start up a game of basketball or touch football, or even pull out the Wii! There are lots of things to enjoy during the holiday besides food.