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The Day After Thanksgiving – Healthy Eating Strategies

Thanksgiving Day ~  A day for many of us that is full of buttery casseroles and enough pies to feed an army, despite the honest size of our gathering. Yet, for many Americans following this holiday tradition, the way we fuel ourselves the day after is potentially more important than how we eat on the day of. 

But wait, do not go telling your relatives that nutritionist Kathryn says that you can eat all the excess you want on Thanksgiving and it will not matter at all. Not my point. However, I am acknowledging that despite our best efforts to follow the thousands of articles like “10 Tips for a Thinner Thanksgiving”,  the day is still geared around food and we are most likely eating meals with all those yummy carbohydrate rich mashed potatoes, rolls, sugar filled yams, casseroles, and desserts that have not been on our tables in many months.

This is where our trouble begins. For many people, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the food indulgences for the entire holiday season.

Creating the right mindset from the day after Thanksgiving into the remaining holiday season is crucial for many and their health. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have a true number to represent how many pounds on average that Americans really do gain over the holiday season, so I can’t give you “this big scary statistic”. (Make sure you fact check what you read online or hear on the radio.) The last creditable study on this topic was published in 2000, and they found on average no more than 1 lb was gained. However, due to the increase in the food industry’s seasonally processed food items, our eating and even social habits around food have changed over a 20 year span.

 Importantly, what I can give you are a couple strategies to help you keep those pounds off, not only through Thanksgiving, but for the remaining holiday season. 

I’m aware that these next few holidays may look different for many of you, thanks to Covid-19, so I hope you can take my tips and personalize them to fit your new holiday routine. 

Make an “After Thanksgiving” Plan

Sit down and plan. There is nothing like a good session with the pen and paper, or for you techies maybe the notes app on your iPhone, am I right?   However you do it, plan a healthy eating strategy to succeed.

Picture this: you go through a lot of effort to make an amazing Thanksgiving meal. You order groceries online, pre-cook some casseroles, decorate your home, and maybe send someone for a last-minute item you forgot.  It feels like weeks of work to have a great Thanksgiving. You go to all that effort only wake up the Friday after and not have anything other than left-overs to eat for the next three days.  No, I’m not suggesting a “cold-turkey” cut off: one day you’re indulging and the next day you’re expected to be back to perfect eating habits. Not at all. 

I am suggesting you plan for the days after. What are some veggies and lean proteins you can have ready in the freezer as you transition out of your butter coma? How can you re-use or combine your turkey and leftovers with healthy ingredients for a good balance and help you transition back to healthy eating?  

Planning ahead to transition back to healthy eating is one of your biggest weapons of success that many people undervalue. Whether you travel for the holiday or not, do you really want to be bloated and lethargic starting back to work on Monday? Make a plan! 

The “Food Is Fuel” Mindset

Focus your mindset on what food is. Food is many things to all of us: delicious, cultural, social, fun, it tells a story, and is a way many of us show love. But most importantly to our bodies food is fuel. Healthy food provides the nutrition and energy that keeps us moving.

I try to use the mindset that on special occasions, like Thanksgiving, food is fun, and a way to share my love language with my family. It’s often full of fat and sugar and all those yummy typically unhealthy things.  However, I do my best to shift back to my everyday, healthy mindset on food the day after Thanksgiving. That means finishing the leftovers within 1-2 days by repurposing or I toss them. I make the decision that my fridge needs room for next week’s new healthy groceries. This sets me up for success when being bombarded with temptations of holiday treats until the New Year.

I have to hand it to some marketing companies. They can take something you might not normally get, but make it holiday-themed and well, we want it. I’m looking at you Reese’s Cups shaped like Christmas trees, Hershey’s Peppermint Kisses, and Krispy Kreme’s cute reindeer donut. And of course, our kids just have to have the red and green Rice Krispie treats and the Hot Cocoa Grahams Goldfish…… Do not even get me started on those holiday Starbucks drinks! 

I think we let these things slip into our carts by calling it a temporary treat that we don’t enjoy all year long. But when the treats start in November (for some when the candy comes in during October) and we eat these treats all the way through “Grandma’s leftover Christmas Cookies” in January, these decisions have a big potential to negatively impact our health.

Over a two-month holiday stretch, our little treats keep our bodies in a calorie surplus. Calories equal energy, and more energy in than energy out means we gain mass.

Planning ahead and using a healthy, long term mindset when it comes to deciding to eat a holiday treat or not has the potential to help you come out of the holidays healthier this year.