For some, going cold turkey on turkey day is the only method they can use to “survive” the Holiday without consuming thousands of calories in a three-hour window. For others, they eat so much that they feel like a stuffed turkey for the next 72 hours!
Surely, there’s got to be a way to find a happy medium.
I’m here to tell you that there is.
The strategies below are crafted and presented in a way to help you find an optimal balance between enjoying delicious traditional Thanksgiving Day fare while simultaneously staying within arm’s reach of your nutrition plan and goals.
My approach isn’t “right” or the only approach you can take, but if you implement these 9 strategies exactly how they’re presented below, you’ll find yourself mentally and physically satisfied at the end of the day, yet, not having strayed too far from your plan.
- Prepare Tomorrow’s Food Ahead of Time
To make the transition to getting back on track simple and convenient, prepare Friday’s food BEFORE Thursday’s festivities. And more specifically, portion out each individual meal rather than preparing lean protein, premium carbohydrates, and vegetables in bulk. This extra step – and 10 minutes – will make your transition that much easier.
But Paul, what about leftovers…?
Leftovers are absolutely fare game, even if you’re dieting. However, you must be diligent in how you plan to include said leftovers and portion appropriately. Turkey beast (white meat) is an excellent lean protein – so dive in! Your beans, taters, and stuffing are all fine carbohydrate options, too, but be mindful of their preparation method…there’s likely a tablespoon or 10 of butter per serving.
And if you’d like to enjoy a leftover treat or two, I recommend you do so at your post-workout meal – the high amount of sugar and calories will be used best at this time.
- Prioritize A Workout
Let’s state the obvious: you’re going to consume more calories than usual today. The sooner you accept this, the more enjoyable your day will be. The purpose of a workout on Thanksgiving Day is two-fold:
- A workout will allow you to expend a significant number of calories and therefore put a small dent into your total calorie balance at the end of the day.
- A workout will enhance the likelihood that the extra calories you consume throughout the day are put to good use. This is because your muscles are especially sensitive to nutrient intake post-workout.
As best you can, schedule your workout for as close to your big meal as possible. This will help ensure that the copious amounts of turkey and mashed potatoes you eat help to flip the anabolic switch and replenish glycogen stores in a hurry.
But Paul, I am traveling all morning…I don’t have time to get a workout in…
Any workout is better than no workout. You do not need to get your traditional gym-based workout in.
Consider a home-based workout using your furniture, dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands. Create a homemade circuit and simply move non-stop for at least 20 minutes. I think you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish during this time.
- Do Not Fast Until The Big Meal
A common approach taken on Thanksgiving Day is fasting until the big meal as a means of “saving” calories.
I do not recommend this.
Taking this approach will significantly increase your hunger and cravings and will likely result in a binge-like approach to your meal. Furthermore, many end up not being able to fast until their meal – especially those eating around or after 4:00 p.m. – and often succumb to snacking on candy and desserts hours before they sit-down for the meal.
The result of this grazing is an unnecessary consumption of hundreds (if not thousands) of unplanned calories that will only increase the likelihood of consuming more later due to their low-fiber and high-sugar content.
Instead of fasting, I suggest an alternative approach. See number three below to learn more.
- Focus on Protein and Veggies
Your approach to eating on Thanksgiving Day should be fairly similar with regards to nutrient timing compared to your typical day: strive to eat every three to five hours. To help “save” calories, though, I advocate that you prioritize a lean protein and vegetable every three to five hours – save the carbohydrates and fats for your main meal (unless you’re in a massing phase; more on this below).
This high-protein, high-fiber combination is low in calories and will have a substantial impact on your appetite. For a few hundred calories, you’ll feel well-fed throughout the day and not experience ravenous cravings or feel as if you could eat the entire 21-pound turkey your family has prepared. Instead, appetite and energy will remain even keel throughout the day.
- Start Your Meal with Protein
Regardless of how you fill your plate or what you want to dive into first, you need to begin your meal with protein. So, before slaying a slice of pie or mauling through a plate of mashed potatoes, make sure you focus on turkey, ham, or whatever other lean protein option is being served.
Protein has a profound impact on appetite (learn exactly why a high-protein diet may be the answer to your weight loss or weight maintenance obstacles). When you consume protein it not only slows down digestion, which promotes fullness, but it triggers the release of several satiety hormones that travel to your brain and shut down all hunger cues. Furthermore, the more protein you consume, the more satiety hormones that are released and the stronger the satiety cues.
By focusing on protein before enjoying the rest of your plate(s), you begin to naturally curb your appetite from the get-go, which will help to curb the number of calories you consume throughout the meal.
I recommend that you aim for two palm-size portions of protein at this meal. In the first 5 – 10 minutes of your meal, you need to prioritize one of those palm-size portions. Then, you can make your turkey-mashed potato-stuffing sandwich and move on to the beans, taters, pie, and cookies.
Oh, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce. A MUST on your turkey sandwich.
- Drink 16 Ounces of Water (or more) During the Meal
Similar to prioritizing protein, focusing on fluids will help to naturally limit the number of calories you can consume before satiety signals are so strong that you even turn down another slice of grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie.
I’m not discouraging an alcoholic drink at this meal, however, I am encouraging a glass of water (or two) at this meal in addition to whatever your preferred beverage is this time of year. Drinking plenty of fluid throughout the meal will help to further fill your stomach. When food and fluid continue to fill your stomach, your stomach stretches. When this occurs, nerve endings on the wall of your stomach are stimulated and in turn send strong satiety signals to your brain.
Again, another natural appetite suppressant.
- Slow Down Your Eating
Set a goal to take at least 20 minutes to finish a plate of food. To distract yourself from eating, sit-down and engage with good company – even your spouse’s mother in law – or make sure you’re tuned into the football game (the Redskin’s game is on at 8:30 pm EST this year in case you were wondering…) or any other traditional programming you and your family enjoy.
By taking the focus off of food you will inevitably slow down your eating speed. It turns out that a slower eating speed has a drastic impact on your appetite and ability to continue piling on the calories.
There is an intricate relationship between your gut and your brain. When food reaches your stomach and small intestine, there are a variety of responses that occur to communicate feelings of hunger from your gut to the appetite control center in your brain. When you rush through your meal you don’t provide enough time to allow these signals to reach the appetite control center in your brain – a process that may take 15 – 20 minutes.
Essentially, you override these signals for the short-term and in the process, end up consuming hundreds (if not thousands) of calories more than usual due to never feeling full. Given you’re surrounded by copious amounts of high-calorie foods, this is a recipe for 72 hours of stomach distention and discomfort…
- Take A Post-Meal Walk
After you finish your meal, go take a 15-minute walk (or longer). Walking after a meal enhances transit time of food through your digestive system and helps to lower blood glucose levels because more glucose is taken up by your muscles.
Lower blood glucose levels following this large meal and a reduced chance of feeling uncomfortably full.
So, bundle up and get moving!
- One Plate of Desserts
When dessert is finally served, choose your options carefully. Limit yourself to one plate.
But more specifically and importantly, do not choose a large dinner plate, rather a smaller plate less than seven inches in diameter. Furthermore, include a variety of desserts on your plate instead of having 17 cookies. Exposing your palate to a variety of tastes and textures will help to satisfy any cravings that still remain.
Because I Know You’re Wondering…
Paul, what if I am dieting?
If you’re in the midst of a dieting phase during Thanksgiving, I still advocate that you follow this plan of attack outlined above. Then only difference is that you’ll want to be more selective in your portions – here’s a handy guide to help you do just that without breaking out the food scale at Grandma’s house.
The only instance I recommend that you strictly portion out every morsel of food you eat is if you’re striving to make weight for a competition that is less than two weeks away and you’re flirting with that weight. For most of us, that isn’t the case; therefore, I advocate for a diligent approach to enjoying delicious food in slightly larger portions for this joyous, once a year occasion.
Paul, what if I am massing?
If you are massing during Thanksgiving, first let me congratulate you on a job well done when planning out your nutrition for this year. There’s no better time to be massing!
The same guidelines outlined above should still be taken into consideration when massing; however, you’ll want to prioritize appropriate pre-, intra-, and post-workout nutrition earlier in the day rather than focusing on nothing but protein and veggies leading into the big meal.
One Last Thing…
Don’t weight in the next day unless you can confidently state that you’ll be okay seeing a number 3 – 8 pounds higher than normal. It’s not worth the stress and anxiety so I recommend you skip the scale altogether and do not weight in again until Monday.