Let Us Give Thanks

            Thanksgiving is an opportunity to enjoy friends, family, food and reflect on our blessings.  While deviating from our usual diet is the norm, there are still opportunities to make amends without an awkward detour around the day’s opportunity for relaxation, fun and a bit of indulgence.  While moderation is the keyword, what we do on Thanksgiving is not the real issue.  What we do the other 364 days make the real difference.

            If you have been contemplating the Thanksgiving holiday as an unavoidable diet catastrophe then consider the opportunities to make it a celebration of health and quality of life.  Indeed, quality of life for ourselves and the ones we care for is a blessing to be treasured.  Granted, Thanksgiving is only one day.  Still, it’s a day that by its name asks, “What blessings do you appreciate enough to express thanks for.”

            To make Thanksgiving Day a more special day, awaken early and enjoy a brisk walk in the cool air of a new fall morning.  Invite family, friends, and neighbors to enjoy the holiday walk with you.  If you have no takers, then go it alone.  Don’t be surprised to find others along the way as you enjoy your walk.  What a nice way to meet a neighbor or make new acquaintances that share your appreciation for the health benefits and healing power of an outdoor walk.

            Thanksgiving day offers an opportunity for building upon our sense of common community, remembering the need we have for one another and appreciating how intricately the fabric of life is connected.  Smile as you pass each walker and know that you are one in fellowship with a greater plan.

            If you skip breakfast as a part of your Thanksgiving game plan, be aware that saving up calories for the big meal usually doesn’t pay off in the long run.   Best to have a modest breakfast rather than later feel starved and end up eating more than you planned.

            If dinner will be hosted by others, call ahead and ask if you can bring a dish.  Perhaps, suggest a salad or vegetable.  Just offer your healthy dish without any hint that your host’s dinner plan is anything less than perfect. 

            As insurance against overindulging have a strategy to keep you on track.  One strategy could be to drink a glass of water (not sodas or high-calorie drinks) several minutes before serving yourself.   When your stomach is partially full, your craving will moderate and serving yourself less will be easier.  Eating salad and low glycemic vegetables first also help fill your stomach without overdoing the calories.

            When given a choice, first load your plate with lower glycemic and micronutrient rich foods like salads, greens, and other vegetables before reaching for the more calorie dense macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein.)

            Perhaps you have a tough time putting on the brakes once desserts are served.  Given a choice, reach for a high-fat rather than a high sugar. A high fat dessert will help you feel satisfied sooner than a high sugar dessert.  And, of course, don’t station yourself next to the candy dish.

            If alcohol has been a problem in the past, remember to drink water until you feel satisfied.  Then, pace yourself to make the beverage last 20 minutes.  Unless you can self-limit yourself to one or at most two drinks you may be better off avoiding the bar and indulging in more nutritious choices. Sometimes the best way to stop is to simply not start.  For many, this is the best alcohol beverage strategy.

            Another strategy for a reduced calorie dining experience is to eat slowly. Savor each mouthful.  Laying your fork and spoon down between bites helps overcome the urge to take another quick bite. To pace yourself, try taking a bite about a half or a third as often as the person you are sitting near. Try being the last to finish eating.  Should anyone be concerned, just offer, “It was so delicious I couldn’t help taking time to savor every bite.”  Eating fast is a recipe for an expanding waistline.  Eating slowly helps your body respond to when it has had enough.  Because of a time delay between eating and feeling satisfied, it’s common to feel hungry when in fact you have already overeaten.  By eating slowly the feeling of being full becomes a more timely indication that we have had enough.

            After dinner, enjoy the outdoors.  Perhaps play a yard game, take a neighborhood stroll, take a greenway walk, or a walk in the park.  With Huntsville’s many new parks and greenways, you can make an adventure of visiting one you haven’t been to.  It’s a wonderful way to extend the time and pleasure of being with friends and family.

            At the end of the day, be proud that you made the best of your day.  In the event you fall short of your goal, don’t despair.  There is no sustainable benefit in overcompensating in the days that follow a Thanksgiving binge.  Just stick with your usual diet and exercises. Each tomorrow brings another day and another opportunity.

            Often the best defense against succumbing to unhealthy influences and long-held habits is by arming yourself with knowledge.  For the knowledge that can make a difference, here are a few books that can be life-changing.

            The Longevity Diet

            By Any Greens Necessary

            21 Day Weight Loss Kickstart

            Nutritarian Diet

Plan for Success

            Weigh yourself twice a week at the same time.  Next to the scale, keep a tablet to write your weight and date.  Following your weight trend can be a helpful alert and motivating as you succeed in meeting your goals.

            Begin exercising in the morning. It can reduce cravings for the rest of the day.

            Avoid eating when stressed.  Eat only after you feel calm and not in a rush.  If stressed or hurried, you may overeat followed by poor digestion.

            Rather than dessert, begin substituting a cup of hot tea or a small portion of fruit.  Perhaps try a cup of peppermint tea or chamomile tea.  At work and home keep a pot of tea as the easy snack choice.  Keep the healthy choices handy and the poor choices far away.

            When you have a choice, choose quality whole foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc.) rather than high glycemic processed carbohydrates.  Of course, with nuts and seeds, just a few will do due to their high calorie count.

            Perhaps Thanksgiving slipped up without time to put your calorie defenses in place.  Not to worry, Christmas and New Years will give you ample practice opportunities.  Should you overdo Thanksgiving and feel a need for absolution then join me for the next Saturday morning walk. I’ll probably have a few extra calories to walk off myself.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

Published by Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors practices both family medicine and lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, Dr. Neighbors recommends natural lifestyle therapies in preference to traditional medical approaches. In both specialties, Dr. Neighbors practices evidence-based medicine with the goal of providing the best quality of life from the body's natural healing ability with traditional medical interventions used as appropriate.

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