Did you know the average calorie consumption on Thanksgiving is 4,500 calories, according to the Calorie Control Council? The average eater may think a few extra bites and licks of freshly whipped mashed potatoes or scraps of your aunt's famous pie don't count, but by the end of the day, you might be loosening another notch on your belt. Before writing the holidays off as a free-for-all, consider these tips for staying happy and healthy:
1. Eat breakfast
A common misconception before large meals is to "save" all of your calories for later in the day, hoping you'll skip out on additional calories, but waiting until the evening to eat your first meal can have you heading to the kitchen with huge eyes and over-stuffing your plate more than normal. Start your Thanksgiving with a healthy breakfast full of protein and fiber. Think low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit, or whole-grain toast with eggs, to help keep you full throughout your meal prepping and your head clear when loading your plate at dinner.
2. Get moving
After a large meal, your first instinct might be to head to the couch for football and dessert. But one of the best things you can do is encourage the entire family to get moving and take a walk in the neighborhood. Moving your body will help stimulate your digestive system and burn a few calories while getting some fresh air. If you're feeling super ambitious, many towns and cities host annual 5K races Thanksgiving morning so you can begin your day with increased energy and endorphins, while kickstarting your metabolism all day.
3. Stay hydrated
A common error when listening to your body's hunger signals can be mistaking thirst for hunger. When we are not well hydrated, our bodies can have a surge of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, causing us to eat more than we normally might. Drinking water throughout the day can keep your ghrelin levels at bay and your body in tune. A good rule of thumb is drinking half your body weight in ounces of fluid (i.e 150 pounds divided by two = 75 ounces per day). If you aren't a water drinker, try adding lemon to your water or having seltzer or tea. Don't forget that alcohol isn't a freebie, either; a glass of wine or beer can add an extra 125 to 150 calories per serving, so try alternating with water in between alcoholic beverages.
4. Experiment with new recipes
One of the best ways to control what goes into your mouth is to control what goes into the food itself. This Thanksgiving, spend some extra time finding new recipes with a new seasonal vegetable you haven't tried before. Check out your local farmers market to see what's most fresh – many times, vendors are happy to share their favorite way to prepare the food or offer recipes. You can often easily make substitutions that will lighten up your favorite recipes. Try making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes, for example, or roasting a new type of squash with your favorite fall seasonings, such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon or allspice. If you want to stick with the classics, try swapping yogurt or fat-free sour cream in your creamier recipes or substituting half of the butter in a baked good with applesauce for a sweet treat with half the fat. When filling your plate, fill the first half with vegetables and aim for a wide variety of colors. This will help keep your starch and protein to a reasonable size. More color equals more vitamins and minerals.
5. Help clean up
After everyone has finished eating, encourage family and friends to move to a different room to keep the conversation going without the temptation of picking at leftovers. Putting away the remainders can help prevent you from reaching for that extra plate and eating twice as much as you normally would. Volunteering to clear the dishes will not only make you a great guest, but will also give you some time to digest before diving into dessert.
Most of all, enjoy time with family and friends. The main event shouldn't be about what's on the table, but about who is around it. Be Thankful, Be Grateful!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!