Thanksgiving: It's an event that centers around gathering, connecting and of course, chowing down. But all the lead-up to the holiday — including meal planning, travel planning and potentially navigating tricky relationships with loved ones — can sometimes leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted before the big meal.
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Try these healthy hacks to start the day, and set a positive tone for the Thanksgiving gathering.
1. Move in a Way That Makes You Feel Good
Exercise is a powerful tool, not only for physical health but for our brains, too. Personal trainer Caitlin Jones, CPT, recommends working up a sweat and getting your heart pumping the morning of Thanksgiving to take advantage of those feel-good endorphins all day.
This doesn't mean you have to lace up your sneaks and do a turkey trot after not running in months — instead, simply move your body in a way that feels good to you. Not only will you enjoy the experience more, but you're more likely to squeeze in the sweat before the chaos of cooking begins.
"We are much more likely to exercise regularly if it's an activity we enjoy rather than choosing an activity we think is good for us but that we loathe and won't get out of bed for," Jones says. "Hate running? Go for a walk. Not into lifting? Try yoga. When your alternative is staying in bed and hitting snooze on the alarm, pick the path of least resistance: aka a form of exercise you somewhat enjoy."
And remember, you shouldn't "punish" yourself for the food you're about to eat by doing dozens of burpees or putting yourself through sprints. Instead, Jones recommends shifting the way you view exercise and physical activity on Thanksgiving — and always.
You'll exercise more consistently if you don't focus on the end result, like losing weight, she says. It might help to change the language you use, to make you feel more optimistic about working out. Start with a phrase like, "I am a fit person who is in control of my life and health, so exercising this morning is a great way to start my day!"
2. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Breakfast and Plan for Snacks
Many people believe it's better to skip breakfast because they are about to eat a hearty Thanksgiving meal, says Meghan Perkins, RD, dietitian and Nutrition Services Manager for Project Angel Heart. Or they might eat significantly less than they usually would leading up to the culinary affair.
But this tactic backfires, she says, since forgoing food until the late afternoon or evening will only make you hangry — and cause you to overeat to the point of discomfort. Instead, Perkins suggests planning well-balanced meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your blood sugar and metabolism regulated.
Start by scrambling some eggs with vegetables and serve with a whole-grain slice of toast, Perkins suggests. Or, if you're looking to avoid washing pots and pans, have Greek yogurt with granola, oatmeal with walnuts or a piece of toast smothered in peanut or almond butter with banana and strawberries.
For snacks, try hummus with veggies or, for something heartier, a bowl of chili packed with beans. Perkins says.
"Focus on nourishing yourself with whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and lots of fiber from fruits and vegetables," Perkins says.
3. Take a Moment to Be Truly Thankful
Practicing gratitude regularly is vital for our mental health, says psychologist Yvonne Thomas, PhD. That's true even if it's been a challenging year, or one dominated by stress, uncertainty and loss.
"Too often, when someone is going through a tough time, it's easy to forget, minimize or take for granted what is good in their life. When this happens, you can end up feeling depressed, anxious, hopeless, sad, jealous or angry," Thomas says.
But when we focus on the positives, it's easier to see the whole picture, creating a calmer and happier spirit. Think of your thankfulness practice as a reality check that counterbalances negative thoughts, feelings or beliefs.
Thomas recommends beginning your Thanksgiving Day gratitude session by taking 10 minutes to think about what you're grateful for consciously. "Try to not just think about this, but make a point of feeling the emotions associated with what you realized you are grateful for," Thomas says.
It can also be helpful to write down this list in a journal or type it on your phone in the notes section, Thomas says. "By putting the gratitude in words, you are concretizing who and what you are thankful for, which might help you feel your emotions on a deeper level," she says.
To take it a step further, you can share those tokens of appreciation with others by texting a friend, calling up a relative or making a point to thank fellow dinner guests during the Thanksgiving meal.
4. Make a Plan to Drink More Water
Let's say you begin the day with coffee, then before you know it you're toasting with champagne and then sipping wine with your meal. While you shouldn't necessarily avoid any of these beverages, you also shouldn't forget about H2O on Thanksgiving Day.
Think of water as a thirst-quenching multitasker, says Bridget Swinney, RD, dietitian and founder of Eat Right Mama. Often, we think we're hungry when we're just thirsty, so drinking water can help curb impulse eating at the snack table. Water can also help combat bloating, aiding in our digestion, Swinney says. (That's clutch on a day often dominated by unfamiliar and rich foods, which can lead to GI discomfort.)
Start your day with a tall glass of water, then consider creating a goal to have one full, 8-ounce glass of H2O for every other alcoholic or caffeinated drink you have.
5. Give Yourself a Reality Check
Repeat after Perkins: The holidays are meant to be a brief period of joy and celebration with those nearest and dearest. They aren't about putting labels on what you "should" and "should not" eat. While being mindful of your dietary choices is smart to maintain a proper balance, one day isn't going to make or break your lifestyle.
"It's important to keep in mind that the choices you make related to food and nutrition the rest of the year play a much larger role in your overall health than choices you make the few days you eat special food over the holidays," Perkins says.
Should any pesky, negative thoughts come up, Perkins challenges you to be kind to yourself and ask yourself if you would say something similar to a friend, loved one, your child or your partner.
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