By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
It's not so much the single feast of Thanksgiving Day that undoes many well-intentioned athletes, as it is the fact that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the downward spiral of gluttony otherwise known as "The Holidays." (From what I can tell, this time actually begins with the candy of Halloween and ends with the chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks of Easter). If you're determined to ring in the New Year in the same (or better) shape than you began the fall, it makes sense to employ a few simple strategies to keep the feasting under control.
Strategy 1: Eat Your Breakfast
It's tempting to try to save your calories for the turkey feast taking place later in the day, but this self-imposed starvation sets you up for plummeting blood sugar, overindulgence and a tendency to store your feast as fat. Try, instead, to have a breakfast containing both protein and carbs to fuel a morning workout that you might otherwise be tempted to skip.
Strategy 2: Squeeze in a Morning Power Workout
If you've got the time on Thanksgiving morning, check out active.com for virtual running events or Turkey Trots in your area. For most of us, however, time is tight and this isn't going to be the day we go the distance on our morning run. The great news is, an intense workout that leaves you burning calories for hours afterwards (making sure that turkey feast is used as recovery rather than fat storage) doesn't have to take all morning. Try using your Horizon Treadmill, Elliptical, or Recumbent Bike to complete 15 minutes of intense intervals. Simply warm up for two minutes, use your interval program and then cool down for another 3 minutes. Now you've burned off your breakfast in the time it took to brew coffee and are ready to put your turkey to good use building muscle in your recovery. For the most effective use of this workout, try to schedule it less than two hours before your turkey feast. If you aren't able to do that, don't worry. You've still benefitted from the extra calories burned and insulin stabilization this workout provided you.
Strategy 3: Fill your Feasting Plate with Protein and Healthy Carbohydrates
There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an extra serving of turkey at the Thanksgiving table. Packed with lean protein, turkey is exactly the type of food athletes and dieters can use to build muscle and keep themselves feeling satisfied. Round out your plate with the best looking vegetables and sweet potatoes you can find and you've got a meal that will leave you stronger. Limit indulgent starches such as mashed potatoes, dinner rolls and stuffing to those that you NEED to have and only enjoy at holidays. Have enough to keep you from feeling deprived, but don't build your meal around these.
Strategy 4: Space out the Sweets
Get your family away from the table and then back for pie and coffee later in the afternoon. This will make everyone enjoy the dessert more, when they're no longer stuffed from the meal itself. You might also prevent the likelihood of taking killer second helpings of dessert later in the afternoon (I’m not the only one who does this, am I?). Need to fill a little time before dessert? Try….
Strategy 5: Heading Outside
I know, I know. The couch is calling you for a much needed snooze, but that's only the turkey tryptophan talking. Shake it off and grab your favorite cousin to breathe some fresh air with a nice walk or game of hoops before you load up on sweets and seconds. You can stay inside and catch up on the family gossip by getting actively involved in the clean up as well.
Strategy 6: Bragging Rights
Try making a public commitment to have a healthy Thanksgiving Day, and end your day by bragging about what you did well. Use your social community (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to pull together a group of like-minded friends for a special online support group, or join a more anonymous community. You can also post a comment below to tell us your plan. Whatever you do, put your commitment out there before Turkey Day and log in that evening to post how the day went.
Weigh in: What's your plan for a healthy Thanksgiving this year?