In general, I have fond memories of Thanksgiving. I come from a large family, so we didn’t need any company to have a crowd. Even so, I can’t remember any Thanksgiving when there weren’t extra guests. Growing up, we’d sometimes go to my aunt and uncle’s farm where there’d be several tables set up that stretched from one end of their huge kitchen into the next room. Everything was homemade. I even remember my aunt churning butter one year. We ate and ate and ate and ate and could hardly move when we finally left the table. Decades later, my siblings and cousins and I still reminisce about Thanksgiving “at the farm.”
For me, Thanksgiving is all about family and food and being extremely grateful for both. But sometimes, dealing with either or both can be challenging. As many of us prepare for our own gatherings, I thought it might be helpful to get some expert tips on how to:
- Manage what you eat
- Reduce stress
- Keep active
Jackie Conn, the general manager of Weight Watchers (WW) of Maine shared five tips she recommends using right now. If you’re trying to watch what you eat, Jackie’s tips should help you get into the holiday spirit and still support your weight-related goals.
- Start to prepare now instead of waiting until the actual day rolls around. Preparing doesn’t mean starving yourself in a (futile) effort to bank extra calories to use on the big day. Preparing is planning.
- Planning starts with the outcome. In other words, when Thanksgiving Day is over what will have happened? Phrase this in positive terms, not what you don’t want. Think about what holiday favorites will be served and include them in your plans. What do you want to eat and how much will you need to be satisfied? Will you include some physical activity? Create a complete plan with as much specific detail as possible right down to who will be there and what will you wear.
- Practice, practice, practice your plan. Practicing your plan is done in your head. Use mental imaging to see yourself successfully enjoying the day as you planned it. See yourself putting food on your plate in the portions you planned. Envision the tastes, textures and even the feeling of satisfaction with your meal. If you’re not good at creating mental images, and many people are not, then draw yourself a storyboard with stick figures. Look at it often.
- Adjust your “fattitude.” Challenge the defeating thoughts that won’t be helpful. For example, if you think, “every year I have such good intentions and then I blow everything,” cross-examine yourself to get to the truth. The truth may be, “every year I have such good intentions, but then I eat too much.” Eating too much on one holiday is not blowing everything. A good attitude will keep a little slip from becoming a lapse. The faster you get back on track, the less likely there will be any discernible setback. Be happy; not afraid! “Happy people plan actions, not results.” – Dennis Wholey
- Do eat well leading up to Thanksgiving. Make fresh fruit and vegetables the foundation of your daily eating. Add smaller amounts of whole grains and lean protein, and don’t forget to enjoy a bit of healthy oil. Go sparingly on foods with added sugar and alcoholic beverages. Eating a satisfying and healthful diet before a planned splurge makes it easier to get back to eating that way afterward.
It’s quite possible that as soon as you swallow that last piece of Thanksgiving pie the only thing you’ll want to do for the rest of the day is absolutely nothing. In fact, you might be tempted to remain sedentary for the rest of the year. After all, it’s the holidays, so why not give yourself a break until they’re over? Not a good idea says strength coach Andy Wight.
One of my biggest fitness tips is don’t wait until New Years to start getting fit. We generally hibernate during the months of November and December and tell ourselves that we’ll start a fitness routine after the first of the year. However, putting off a new fitness routine often makes starting harder.
How to start? Set a goal right now to do physical activity for 10 minutes straight. It could be walking, biking, or stretching. There is no real limit to what you do as long as you’re doing something. As you continue with this new activity, start increasing the amount of time as a way to progress.
Follow Andy’s advice and you’ll feel grateful long past Thanksgiving.
Even if you don’t eat so much you can hardly move and you do get out for a walk after the meal, Thanksgiving can be a stressful time. We love our family, but sometimes … If you’re concerned that you’ll be spending time with a difficult family member or group, South Portland Psychotherapist Nancy Abel offers these recommendations:
- Try to be grateful for what you have. Practicing gratitude can make a huge difference. Count your blessings for the little things you have … a warm coat, a sunny day, the turkey you will eat, a good friend, etc. Think positively.
- Set good boundaries. Make sure you know it is ok to take care of yourself. Take a break from family — read a book, talk to someone who is safe.
- Take a walk. This might be the best thing you could do for yourself. It is good for body and soul.
- Say no when it is appropriate. You don’t have to answer questions or engage in discussions. Political discussions are particularly heated in some families right now. Excuse yourself if you want to.
- Know you can leave anytime you want to or need to. It is ok to put yourself first.
Managing the holidays after a recent loss or if you are alone
“If you lost someone, this year will likely be very different,” says Nancy. “Remember it is okay to grieve and not feel the joy that we are all programmed to believe we have to have at the holiday. Honor the loss in some way, perhaps light a candle for the person. You might think of doing the holiday differently. Take a little trip, have it be ok not to do gifts or cards, whatever works for you. Reach out to friends who know and love you. “If you are alone, reach out to others, go to a church service, volunteer and do something for others, find a great book or movie and hunker down to a peaceful day. Cook some good food, treat yourself. More people are alone than you would know.”
However you choose to observe Thanksgiving, I hope you have much to be grateful for. Several years ago, I kept a gratitude journal. Every night I’d jot down three things I was grateful for that day. It was an enriching experience because I found myself noticing lots of little things I normally didn’t think about. At this moment, I am grateful that you are reading this blog post. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!