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Plan for a Healthier Thanksgiving

Plan for a Healthier Thanksgiving
You don't have to eat it all.

Thanksgiving is a holiday often centered around food. Saying the name conjures up images of a turkey dinner, surrounded by half a dozen side dishes and desserts. It's a national excuse to overeat.

This year, change things up.

Start the day by eating breakfast. One of the strategies many people employ to keep weight off is by fasting or starving themselves before Thanksgiving dinner. There are a couple of problems with that.

The first problem is that if you skip dinner the night before, or skip breakfast in the morning, your body doesn't have readily available energy to do things. You'll feel tired and have less strength.

The second problem is that after more than 8-12 hours without food, your body will start cannibalizing muscle to keep operating, while stubbornly clinging onto the fat. When dinner is finally served, you're often so hungry you speed through the meal. Instead of enjoying everything, you're simply gorging to fill yourself up.

It's not uncommon for someone to eat 2,500 to 3,500 in a single Thanksgiving dinner setting. Maintaining a regular meal schedule, even if breakfast and lunch are a little lighter than normal, can go a long way towards beating the binge.

Get 30-minutes to an hour of exercise done early in the day. Spend some time lifting weights, doing a quick high-intensity cardio session, taking a bike ride or just walking around your neighborhood. It boosts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories all day.

Do something more ambitious by signing up for a Thanksgiving day run. There are 5K Turkey Trot walks and runs all over the country. Look for ones that offer finisher medals. Then keep the medal with you during the day as a reminder to make healthier choices.

Have brunch or lunch with friends and prepare the dinner together. Don't worry about cooking two meals for people, book the brunch at a local restaurant. When you're finished, have everyone make dinner as a group. Spend the day talking and sharing memories. Getting help also relieves some of the stress of cooking that special meal.

Make healthy substitutions for traditional recipes. Try things like mashed garlic cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. Serve lower-calorie pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie. Bake higher fiber whole-wheat rolls instead of white. You don't have to change everything, but all those small choices can add up. (There are hundreds of healthier recipes at WeCookFit.com.)

When you do serve dinner, do it in courses. Putting everything out at once encourages people to eat a lot and do it quickly. Serve a soup or salad first and follow it with a break. Then the main course, followed by a break. By the time you get to dessert, you're less likely to take such a big slice of pie, if you want to eat it at all.

Plan an after-dinner game to get the table cleared and move people away from the food. It can be something simple like cards or a board game. If you're feeling a little more ambitious, get people outside for horseshoes, volleyball, a bike ride or even a game of touch football. I once attended a party that had a scavenger hunt and it was a blast. If the food's put away, everyone's less likely to keep going back for more. 

A lot of people volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter during Thanksgiving. There's nothing wrong with that, but many get far more requests over the holidays to help than they can accommodate. Offer to help local nonprofits that don't get as much attention. Animal shelters, environmental groups and historical societies all need help too and volunteering can really make a difference for a small agency.

Ultimately isn't that the real purpose of Thanksgiving; to be reminded of all the things we're thankful for and doing what we can to reach out and help others? End the tradition of eating too much and replace it with something better.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.