Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect on blessings and show gratitude, but unfortunately, it can also be the start of a holiday season filled with overindulgence. The American holiday, which spans cultures, dates back to 1621 and the autumn feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people. Today, the tradition continues, with the Thanksgiving celebration marked by a bounty of delicious food and drink. But the holiday doesn’t have to just be about stuffing yourself…you can leave that to the turkey. Here are ten tips for a happier, healthier holiday.

Start an Active Family Tradition

From a friendly flag football game, running in a Turkey Trot, or simply talking a post-dinner walk, take time for physical activity and make it an annual tradition. A long walk after dinner allows you to spend more quality time together and also helps you digest your dinner and make room for dessert. As you approach the holidays, create a calorie deficit by exercising to burn off extra calories before you indulge and prevent excessive weight gain.  

Choose Healthier Food Alternatives

Whether you’re hosting dinner or bringing a favorite dish to share, it’s easy to make recipes healthier but cutting fat, salt, and sugar. Use sugar substitutes, fat-free and low-sodium chicken broth, and yogurt in place of sour cream. You can also make your stuffing recipe with whole-grain bread, swap almonds for fried onions in your green bean casserole, and add a green salad to your menu. And, add fresh fruit and a sugar-free pie to the dessert table.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Eating a small meal in the morning helps control your appetite, so start the day with a small, healthy breakfast. Scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast will provide the protein and fiber you need to fill up so you won’t overeat later in the day.

Manage your Portions

Fill your plate with all the Thanksgiving bounty, but take reasonable-sized portions and avoid the temptation of going back for seconds!

Eat Slowly

Savor each mouthful of food by eating slowly and putting your fork down between bites. Take time for conversation to slow down the meal and aid digestion.

Skip the Seconds

Resist the temptation of second helpings by thinking of the leftovers you’ll enjoy the next day. And, you’ll also save room for a healthy dessert.

Drink Water

It’s always a good idea to hydrate, but its particularly important on Thanksgiving, when many of the foods are high in sodium. Water flushes out your body and alleviates bloating.

Go Easy on Alcohol

Alcohol adds unnecessary calories to the diet. Enjoy one glass of wine with your dinner, but don’t overindulge.

Set Realistic Goals

Chances are, you won’t be losing weight during the holidays, but strive to maintain your weight and then start the new year with a weight loss program.

Focus on Family Not Food

While Thanksgiving celebrates a bounty of food, focus on friends and family and spend quality time together away from the table, taking walks, playing games, and socializing. Take time to remember all you are thankful for and express your gratitude.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center

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