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How to Stay Healthy at Thanksgiving

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Towards the end of the fall semester, every collegiette needs some time for rest and relaxation with her friends and family. Thankfully (pun intended), Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to slow down before finals and end-of-semester projects begin.

With so much delicious food and time to chill out, it’s easy to quickly let your normally healthy habits slip, but it doesn’t have to be that way this year! If you’re looking for simple ways to stay healthy and happy during Thanksgiving break (and avoid that post-feast food coma), read on for suggestions and advice from experts.

To avoid overeating:

Eat breakfast first

It can be tempting to want to “save up” your calories and appetite until it’s time to indulge in your Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, this isn’t a smart idea, since you’ll be starving by the time you eat, and it’ll make you more likely to overindulge at dinner.

Dietitian Kathleen Zelman, who is also the director of nutrition for WebMD, says that “eating a nutritious meal with protein and fiber before you arrive takes the edge off your appetite and allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices.” This doesn’t mean to eat a meal immediately before your Thanksgiving meal, but rather at some point in the morning beforehand.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to start your day off right with a balanced, healthy breakfast to keep you full before your big meal in the late afternoon. Opt for something with protein and fiber, such as oatmeal with nut butter or an omelet or scrambled eggs with toast.

Skip the second helping

If you’re tempted to eat a second plate of food at your Thanksgiving meal, take a second to think about whether or not you’re actually still hungry. Otherwise, you’ll just be consuming additional and unnecessary calories that will leave you feeling overfull. Once you’ve finished your first plate of food, take about a 20-minute break to relax with your family and friends before deciding if you want to load up on seconds.

Don’t forget that eating your Thanksgiving leftovers are often one of the best parts of the holiday!

“Leftovers are much better the next day, and if you limit yourself to one plate, you are less likely to overeat and have more room for a delectable dessert," dietitian Connie Diekman says.

To stay mindful of nutrition:

Drink water

At your Thanksgiving meal, there may be several delicious drinks to choose from, such as hot chocolate, sparkling apple cider or eggnog. These beverages are extremely tempting, and they often contain lots of additional calories, sugar and sodium that you might not be aware of. If you’re drinking several glasses of your preferred drink during your meal, you could be gulping down too much additional sodium, which can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

Since you’ll be eating plenty of other calories during your meal, dietitian Natalie Weiss recommends choosing water as your main beverage in order to avoid drinking any additional calories. There will be so many different food choices, tastes and textures at your meal that you probably won’t even have to drink a flavored beverage to compensate! Drinking water can also help to aid your digestive system and your metabolism by flushing out wastes and toxins from your body that leave you feeling weak. You can also drink water throughout the day before your meal to keep hunger cravings at bay.

Load up on vegetables

With so many food options to choose from, like roasted turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, it can be easy to lose sight of the vegetables at your meal. Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday, it’s no excuse to skip your recommended five servings a day of nutrient-packed veggies.

“Fill half of your plate with green vegetables, a quarter of your plate with starch and the remaining quarter with turkey,” Weiss says.

Offer to help cook

By taking control in the kitchen, you’ll have a say in which foods are prepared for your family. If you’re concerned that there may not be enough healthy choices at your meal, your assistance and input will help to change that (and we’re sure your parents wouldn’t mind the extra help!). This can be as simple as providing a nutritious side dish instead of one that is high in calories and fat. Check out this article on how to make holiday dishes healthier for ideas!

To stay sane:

Take some time to exercise

Exercise may be the last thing on your mind during your break. Regardless, a short amount of light exercise will help you to stay relaxed and focused during your time with family and friends.

Thanksgiving exercise can be as simple as taking a 15-minute stroll around your neighborhood after you’ve eaten. Your family can make the walk fun by bringing along your pets, or you can play games while you’re walking. If you think that your day with be packed with activities, squeeze in a quick morning workout before your guests arrive or before you head out to someone’s house for the meal. Instead of walking, you can also ride your bike around town or do some yoga poses in your room.

These exercises are simply designed to get you moving around instead of sitting all day. Unfortunately, light exercise won’t undo a huge Thanksgiving meal, so don’t let a short walk be an excuse to pig out later. If you’re looking for a workout that will get you sweating more, you can hit the gym or try something fun like registering for a Turkey Trot race with your family.

Keep your focus on your family

Don’t forget about your mental health once Thanksgiving rolls around! Remember that this is the time of the year to unwind and slow down from your normally hectic schedule during the semester, so make sure that you use the time wisely to enjoy with your loved ones.

In regards to worrying about your diet plans instead of family, Weiss says, “Don’t worry about being perfect. You can only do the best you can with what you’ve got. Thanksgiving is a time to have fun, spend time with family and enjoy good food. Don’t stress if your meal is not perfectly healthy. It is okay to indulge a bit, just don’t overdo it.”

Susan Finn, RD, echoes this sentiment. “The main event should be family and friends socializing [and] spending quality time together, not just what is on the buffet,” she says. Remember, Thanksgiving should be more about spending time with your family than the food!

No matter where you’re headed for Thanksgiving this year, it’s important to stay healthy and happy so that you can enjoy your time to the fullest. Enjoy your break, collegiettes!


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