Have you contemplated how you’re going to make sure you have a healthy Thanksgiving this year? Thanksgiving is all about delicious food, time spent with loved ones, and of course, being thankful. But it can also inadvertently generate a bunch of stress, indigestion, and disruptions to our healthy routines. It kicks-off the holiday season that ends on New Year’s, and I suspect it’s why so many people choose weight-related resolutions for the new year. Thanksgiving can trigger a month-long dive into unhealthy living that leads to more stress and less conscientious self-care. But, it doesn’t have to.
With a little mindfulness and intention, we can minimize holiday stress and stick to our wellness lifestyle. We can create a healthy Thanksgiving celebration. One that supports happiness, balance, and a deeper connection to the meaning of the day: gratitude. And, best of all, in doing so we can better prepare ourselves to manage stress and make healthier choices throughout the remainder of the holiday season.
Here are 10 tips that can help you have a happier, healthier Thanksgiving this year.
A Healthy Thanksgiving Starts Before the Big Meal
A little intention and planning goes a long way toward making sure your health and well-being don’t suffer under the stress of Thanksgiving preparations.
1. Get Organized With a List
Ever realized you were out of a spice, or some other critical ingredient, just as you’re about to start cooking? I certainly have. It’s awful! Don’t wait until the last minute to plan. Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving, bringing food to someone else’s house, or simply playing guest, taking the time to organize yourself with a list (or two) can significantly reduce stress. Which supplies do you need to buy? What all do you need to prepare? What do you need to bring?
Take an inventory of what you’ll need versus what you already have. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the store and order online, if necessary. Figure out a timeline for what needs to get done and when. Write it down, so you can mark each item off your list as you complete it. Keep your list handy, so you can add to it as things come to mind. That way, you don’t have to keep it all organized in your head or worry about forgetting something.
Know in advance when you’re going to do the things you need to do and realistically how long each will take. Leave some wiggle room in your schedule. And don’t forget to include time for self-care and tending to your children (if applicable).
2. Prepare the Night Before Thanksgiving
Any task you can complete the night before, do it. That includes preparing foods, setting out silverware, dishes, napkins, and serving ware. Also, packing-up supplies to take with you, i.e. diaper bags, toys, or anything else you might need to bring to Thanksgiving. Set-out your clothes. The less hustle and bustle you have to manage on the day-of, the better. You’ll be calmer and in a better head space to focus on family and mindful enjoyment of the next day.
Just as important is getting a good night’s sleep. Try to get a full 7-8 hours of sleep. If you’re having trouble unwinding, do some restorative yoga to help you relax, drink some warm chamomile tea, or read a book. These little acts of self-care the night before will also serve as a reminder to make your health a priority on Thanksgiving day.
3. Wake-Up Early for Some Mindful, Quiet Time
Set your alarm clock to get up an hour early, so you can center and tend to your well-being before the day’s activities. This quiet time will set the tone for your day. Eat a healthy breakfast. Drink some coffee or tea. Then, practice mindfulness for 10-20 minutes. You can use my guided meditation for intentional wellness to do this. With its added focus on using the power of your intention to support your mind-body-spirit health, it can help you make good, healthy choices throughout the day.
You can also use this time to do a gratitude practice. Give thanks for everything you have, from your health to your family to your home. Even the things we often take for granted, like running water, plumbing, electricity, etc. With this focus on the true intention of the holiday, your spirits will be lifted and your stress levels automatically reduced.
4. Put Some LOVE Into Your Cooking
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve got several dishes to prepare, each with a bunch of different steps to manage, I can get pretty frazzled. And it only gets worse when I stress about how the food will come out. But that all changed for me after I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on How to Eat. Among many other words of wisdom in this book, he says:
When you prepare a meal with artful awareness, it’s delicious and healthy. You have put your mindfulness, love, and care into the meal, then people will be eating your love.Thich Nhat Hanh, How To Eat
What a beautiful thought! People will be eating my love. Seriously, this changed my whole perfectionist-driven approach to cooking. Whether my apple pie crust looks a little wonky, or Gordon Ramsey would turn his nose up at my plate-presentation, if I’ve made it with love, people will taste that.
What’s more, thinking about the nourishment and love you’re providing for your loved ones as they eat your food makes the act of cooking enjoyable. Way more enjoyable than if you’re stressing about producing the perfect outcome. So cook your Thanksgiving dishes with more love and less stress.
Staying Mindful & Healthy at the Thanksgiving Table
With all this mindful and intentional preparation for the big event, you’ll find you’re already in good position to have a healthy, happy Thanksgiving meal. But, how and what we eat, as well as how we interact at the table, can also make a huge difference.
5. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating means attentive eating. It’s paying attention with all of your senses as you eat. Noticing the appearance and smell of the food prior to putting it into your mouth. Savoring the texture and flavor of it as you chew. Even noticing the sounds at the table. It’s being truly present in the moment as you eat.
It also means acknowledging what you’re eating. Acknowledging, with gratitude and respect, the life forms (both vegetable and animal) you’re consuming. Contemplating all the life energy involved in bringing the food to your table. From the cultivation, to the packaging, to the transportation and stocking of your food, and of course, the preparation itself.
Lastly, it means chewing your food carefully and completely. Most digestion occurs in the mouth, not in the stomach. So taking the time to chew your food all the way will help prevent indigestion later. It will also slow down your eating process, which helps you recognize when you’re full and prevent overeating.
Mindful eating is joyful eating. You enjoy the flavors more and appreciate the nutritious value of your food more. It’s incredibly supportive of overall healthy eating.
6. Take Healthy Portion Sizes
If your house is like mine, Thanksgiving looks like a smorgasbord. So many different foods to choose from, and all of them look delicious. It can be hard to choose, so I end up taking some of almost everything. That’s a LOT of food. Far more than I’m used to eating in one sitting.
The key to being able to try everything without feeling stuffed beyond capacity is portion control. I read an article once that said after the first three bites, we don’t get the same flavor satisfaction from a food. We’re really continuing to eat it based on our memory of the first few bites. It’s called sensory-specific satiety. With this in mind, we can choose much smaller portion sizes of each dish without losing our sense of satisfaction from the meal.
In fact, because Thanksgiving buffets offer so many options, we can enjoy more satisfaction from the variety of foods. Just take a few bites of each and pay attention to your body’s signals. If you’re approaching fullness, it’s time to stop. You can come back to your favorite dishes the next day, as left-overs, and get the full effect of their flavor again.
7. Lean Into the Lighter Food Choices
By lighter, I mean less starchy. Not the potatoes, stuffings, breads, etc. These foods weigh us down and bloat us up much faster than proteins and vegetable choices like broccoli, carrots, beets, and salads. And overall, the lighter choices are healthier for you. If you’re going to eat more than a few bites of any dish, choose the lighter options.
Whether you’re hosting or not, make sure there are some of these lighter foods on the table. If you know your family doesn’t typically prepare these types of foods, don’t be afraid to bring a healthy dish or two of your own. Who knows? You might just introduce someone to a delicious, healthy new flavor palate.
8. Keep Positive Conversation at the Thanksgiving Table
Sometimes when families get together, conversation can turn south. Politics, gossip, unresolved rivalries, passive aggression, or differences of lifestyle or opinion can trigger anything from low-grade tension to full-on debates. This contributes to holiday stress and interferes with healthy digestion.
While you can’t control what other people say and do, and in fact trying to do so would be unhealthy for you, you can tend to your own tongue. Keep your contributions positive and avoid joining negative conversations. At the very least, you’ll maintain your own health and happiness. At best, you might inspire others to follow your lead.
9. Keep Gratitude in Mind Throughout Your Thanksgiving Celebration
Gratitude is such a powerful force. It’s so good for our mental and physical health. (Learn more.) That’s why Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. We’ve set aside a whole, special day to be mindful of our blessings. But, how much time do we actually spend thinking about our blessings during our Thanksgiving festivities? There’s so much intention and energy put into the preparing and eating of food, not to mention the recovery from overeating, the true meaning of the holiday can get lost in the mix.
Consider how different it would feel to fully embrace the tradition’s intention:
- As you greet and talk with your loved ones, looking into their eyes and really seeing them.
- Being thankful that they’re alive, regardless of any history, annoying traits, or differences that may exist.
- Giving in to laughter at the dumb jokes because you’re aware one day you won’t hear them again.
- Saying thank you for something you’ve always appreciated but just haven’t gotten around to vocalizing.
There are so many ways to put gratitude into practice on this day. But I think what lies at the heart of all of them is being really present in the moment and noticing what you have right in front of you. As someone who has lost all of my childhood family, I can tell you, it’s an incredible blessing to have family and other loved ones to share your Thanksgiving with.
If you go through your whole Thanksgiving day with a mindful focus on gratitude, you’ll crawl into your bed at night glowing.
Practice Healthy Self-Care After Your Thanksgiving Meal
This last tip reminds you to take care of yourself after your meal. While you help wash dishes and put away leftovers, your body is busy digesting all the food you’ve just eaten. That’s a good thing. But when you’re done, don’t plop down to rest just yet. An hour after eating, you can further support healthy digestion with a few easy yoga stretches.
10. Support Healthy Digestion With These Yoga Poses
- Legs Up The Wall
- Extended Puppy Pose
- Triangle Pose
- Bridge Pose
- Supine Twist
- Half Wind Relieving Pose
You don’t have to do all of them, and you don’t have to follow that order. Just select a few and find a quiet, secluded space to take care of yourself for a few minutes. My personal favorites for digestion are Legs Up The Wall and Supine Twist. In addition to aiding digestion, all of these poses can help you unwind, relax, and release any stress that may have accumulated.
As with everything in life, Thanksgiving will be what we make of it. We can choose to abandon our healthy, intentional lifestyle choices and fall into the stress that can often accompany the holidays. Or, we can invite mindfulness, self-care, and healthy discipline into the experience. Choosing the latter not only keeps us healthier and happier on Thanksgiving Day, it sets the tone for the coming rush of the holiday season.
May your Thanksgiving be abundantly joyful, supportive of your health and happiness, and filled with love.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Are any of these tips already a part of your Thanksgiving tradition? Which ones are you planning to implement this year?