The Dietitian Approved Athlete’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide
Before reading the following blog, I ask you to keep in mind that each person and their nutrition needs are different. That is why I recommend that everyone takes a personalized approach to their diet. Nutrition needs vary based on many things including age, biology, food preferences, current health status, current training, religion, budget, body composition and future goals. This article, while it does contain useful tips for surviving the holidays, is also seasoned with satire. You have been warned.
Oh Thanksgiving! The food, the feels, the friends, the family all wrapped up into one delicious weekend. Despite all the great things this holiday can bring, some people dread it. They dread weight gain, they dread that certain family member, or maybe they dread being cooped up with all the crazies... I mean loved ones. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to tone down these “inconveniences.” Since the holidays can be a stressful time, I’ll keep it simple by breaking down my tips into three categories: Movement, Meals, and Manners.
Whether you will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the snow or in the tropics, there are many physical activities that you can do. Between travel and family festivities, fitting in your normal workouts can be quite a challenge. Luckily, there are many activities that you can do to keep moving and that can include your loved ones.
- Run a (virtual) Turkey Trot: whether you run it solo or run with loved ones, a 5k on Thanksgiving morning is a great way to get your metabolism going so you can eat a bigger dinner.
- Play ball: football, whiffle ball, soccer... there are tons of options to get the whole family moving. Even if your crew is smaller this year than usual, you can still get outside and just play catch or pass the ball around.
- Go for a walk: while prepping all the food can be time consuming, there are generally several breaks in the day where things are cooking in the oven and all you can do is wait. Use those times to go for a walk around the neighborhood. Go solo for a moment of peace and quiet, or bring your loved ones to catch up and chat. Be sure to bring all the dogs, they are always ready for a walk!
- Yoga: yoga, or even light stretching is great because you can do it indoors. What is more peaceful than stretching by the fire? The great thing is that you can do it while everyone else is watching football, or make it a group activity. If others want to join in, have someone volunteer to “lead a class” or stream a yoga lesson from doyogawithme.com or youtube.
- Compete: what are the holidays without some sibling rivalries? Challege your family members of all ages to see who can do the most pushups, who can do the most squats in a minute, who can plank the longest, who is the most flexible, who can do a handstand... these competitions don’t just get you moving, they provide entertainment for everyone else in the room.
When it comes to meals it is important to remember that Thanksgiving weekend is a marathon not a sprint. Not only is there Thanksgiving dinner, but there may be feasts with multiple side of the family, a pot luck at work, and a Friendsgiving feast. You do not have to go comatose after each! Short term, overeating might make you feel stuffed and bloated. Long term... like by the end of the weekend... it may even cause you to gain unwanted weight.
Now, I am not saying to eat “lightly” all weekend, but I do encourage you to practice portion control. When you sit down to a feast, take a small portion of each of the things you would like to try. If you still want more, then only go back for portions of your favorite. Keep in mind that there will probably be leftovers. Instead of eating extra helpings in one sitting, plan to have it for lunch tomorrow. This practice can help keep you from overeating today AND gives you the chance to eat more of your favorites tomorrow.
Lastly, take advantage of all of the carbs! Endurance athletes are well aware of how carbing up can lead to an awesome workout. Thanksgiving feasts involve carbs in many forms including stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, squash, sweet potato casserole, and of course, pie! Over the weekend, try using a different carb before each workout. This “research” is deliciously tedious, but also valuable. You may find that you feel even better after having sweet potato than you do your usual pre-race pasta. It is possible that you run better after a slice of pie than you do after a piece of fruit... you never know until you try! Pay attention to which foods make you crampy and sluggish so that you do not eat them before a race.
Finally, you need to manage your manners. We may not be able to control everyone else, but at least we can somewhat control ourselves. Holidays can be frustrating for “health nuts” so use these Thanksgiving day tips keep the peace at your family festivities.
If you want something healthy, bring it and bring enough to share.
- Holiday meals can be tough when your loved ones have a different diet than you! Rather than asking everyone to conform to your practices, bring some dishes that fit your wants and needs. Keep in mind that people will likely be curious, so make enough to share.
Don’t talk down on other people’s dishes or food choices in general.
- Talking about how “unhealthy,” “weird,” “artery clogging,” “too healthy,” “artificial,” “fattening,” or anything else someone else's dish is does not make yours any better. Your aunt’s appetizer isn’t sinful because it is not keto. Your brother’s dish is not “rabbit food” because it is vegan. Your friend’s dish is not crap because it is store bought. People, we are all trying to do our best! Your best and their best may be very different, but criticizing each other does not do anything except make hurt feelings. Keep the negative comments to yourself and ignore theirs. The point of Thanksgiving is to come together to share a meal. You do not have to eat the same things, just enjoy eating together. There is enough aggressive food labeling the rest of the year, keep it out of your meal of gratitude.
If someone brings up a touchy subject, and you don’t have anything nice to say, then take a bite. Repeat until the subject is changed or until you pass out.
- From the pandemic to the election, not to mention your love life, dietary choices, and your school or career choices, there are plenty of topics you may want to avoid during dinner. If loved ones can’t tell that you keep taking bites because “it is rude to talk with your mouth full,” then simply say something like “I really do not want to talk about that subject or answer that question, but I am happy to spend time with you.” At that point, ask them to tell you about their happiest memory, a funny story about their pet, or an embarrassing story about your other family members. If they refuse to change the subject after ask nicely, then at least you tried! Do not “take the bait” and continue eating while you talk with someone else.
Thanks for reading! Remember to move your body, use portion control, and practice good manners! Enjoy the delicious food and time (or zoom calls) with loved ones. Wishing you a happy, healthy, strong Thanksgiving!
It is an added bonus that proper fueling also means that you will be on your A game so you catch all of the AMAZING holiday deals from Headsweats! Ready, set, sweat!
Taylor Lawless is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition (CSO). She wears many hats, Headsweats included. By day she works for a cancer center where she helps people fuel through their cancer journeys. By night she is a writer and works with cross country runners to help them fuel their PRs. You can find her first children's book “The Fun Run” on Amazon. For more nutrition tips you can follow her on Instagram @theXCRD and check out her website is www.theXCRD.com This Thanksgiving, you can find her by the mashed potatoes and gravy or the pie.