How To Survive A Healthy Thanksgiving

In 2015 I jumped on a crazy diet fad (it shall remain nameless to protect the innocent and the ignorant). So I foolishly started the 30-day regime in October thinking that it would be over by Thanksgiving and I could enjoy my favorite holiday, and of course my favorite foods, without any guilt and with very little change to my physical appearance. Well, I miscalculated the days – start day and end day – unbeknownst to me before starting, there was an “ease into it” week that was highly recommended for all participants. I’m not a fad diet kind of guy, so I felt compelled to see this through and do it right. But this meant my final day would be the Monday after Thanksgiving as opposed to the Monday before as originally thought. Needless to say that Thanksgiving I painfully watched my family devour, what seemed at that time to be, the best looking meal I have ever seen in my life while I slothfully ate Melba toast and unseasoned chicken breast. Very true and very sad story.

As horrible as that story sounds – and reliving it through these words brings chills to my Thanksgiving soul – that fad diet delivered amazing results. In 30…I mean 37 days, I lost 4% body fat and, to my “diet leader’s” surprise, actually gained 2% of muscle mass. It was extremely surprising to him because this was a calorie depriving diet, which meant that most days I had just enough energy to breath. And nothing more. Perhaps a little facetious, but I’m sure you get the point. I was told upfront that losing muscle mass was a common side effect to a low caloric diet, but this diet was “designed” to minimized those negative effects. I wasn’t taking that risk. I knew that hitting the gym hard every day while only consuming 500 calories would be damn near impossible. But like my best friend Alex used to say (and hopefully still believes), “If its difficult, I’ll do it right away. If it’s impossible, it may take me a while.”

So, every day during that diet I woke up and exerted well over my allotted 500 daily caloric intake by picking up and putting down heavy pieces of metal.  The words, “it may take me a while” echoing in my head during the times when I thought I couldn’t get one more set in – before I got one more set in. But the most difficult time, by far, was Thanksgiving dinner.  There are two extremes for Thanksgiving dinner, not eating at all (never doing that again) and eating way too much (done that way too many times). Hopefully, I can help you find that sweet spot in the middle.

It’s a few days before Thanksgiving. And here’s my plan on how I’m going to survive the massive amounts of food that I plan to intake on Thursday and still wake up early Friday morning for a nice shirtless run and workout on the beach. First thing I suggest you do is eat a reasonable breakfast. Most people, and I’ve fallen in this trap more times than I’d like to admit, will skip breakfast and even lunch in order to gorge at dinner. Bad move for so many reasons. Instead, put a high protein, med/low carb meal in your stomach sometime in the morning. That’s “low” carb, not “zero” carbs; you should always have carbs in the morning to start your day. I’d also recommend some kind of cardio in the morning. I don’t know who started the “turkey trot” 5k rituals, but they’re perfect for priming the metabolism for today’s adventure. Take your time on the run/jog/walk, take it easy, take it slow – just take it; burn a few extra calories because we know we’re going to add a few extra calories today that our metabolism was not informed about.

My next advice, and this may blow your mind, is to eat your dessert first. We all know we’re going to get that slice of mom’s pumpkin pie, or auntie’s famous banana pudding, so why not just get it early and out of the way. Statistically speaking, desserts are usually the first items of a Thanksgiving meal that are completed; usually way before lunchtime. You were probably planning on skipping lunch anyway, and by noon your body is asking for nourishment (not that pecan sweet potato pie is nourishment) so how about a slice of pie and a cup of coffee to tie you over until dinner? This is brilliant, I think, and not sure why I wasn’t doing this every Thanksgiving. Eating dessert at lunch does a few positive things for you. It provides more time for you to work those not-so-healthy calories off before you retire for the night. It also helps you to not feel so overly hungry while making your dinner plate. Oh, and if you have a large family like mines during Thanksgiving, it guarantees that you get the dessert that you want because you’re not doubt the first to cut that lemon pound cake.

Timing of dinner is actually paramount to your plan. Once you figure out when you’re going to start dinner you can begin your backwards planning for the first three steps. But I would strongly suggest that you start dinner before 4pm – which I believe is actually the normal Thanksgiving Day dinner start time anyway. So my plan is cardio by 7am, breakfast before 9am, dessert around noon, dinner at 4pm, and maybe a lite snake before 8pm.

And speaking of snack, Thanksgiving Day we’re with family and friends and therefore probably up a little past our normal bedtime. There’s a huge caloric gap between eating at 4pm and going to bed at 11pm so I suggest you plan for a lite snack around 8pm. Again, I would make sure it’s very similar to my breakfast meal as far as macros are concerned – high protein and low carbohydrates. Perhaps a second, more conservative and highly selective, round of dinner is just what’s needed at this time. Be smart and be dedicated to success when you make that second plate.

The last thing I’d recommend is taking advantage of the next day. You’re probably (hopefully) off of work on Friday so why not get out and enjoy the weather (I say that because I live in Hawaii). Attack Friday with a workout. If you have a routine, don’t skip it, embrace it because you didn’t eat yourself into an “I can’t move my body” Friday the night before. If you don’t have a workout routine, just wake up and go for a walk – detach yourself completely from Thursday and just be in the moment. If you’re a runner, lace up your shoes, put on your Run Life shirt [was that a plug?] and hit the street hard because you just survived Thanksgiving.

So to summarize and recap, whatever you do, do not jump on a fad diet right before Thanksgiving [insert biter face here] and make sure you have a plan to survive the onslaught of food and calories you know is coming. Here’s my plan in summation: 1. Breakfast; 2. Cardio; 3. Dessert for Lunch; 4.Dinner by 4pm; 5. Lite Snack; 6. Attack Friday. Six easy steps to a successful healthy Thanksgiving. Just my thoughts, but I feel you MUST have a plan in order to feel good on Friday; and by good I mean a little less guilty

So, that’s how I plan to survive Thanksgiving? I know a lot of you have some really good tips on how to successfully wake up Friday morning and say, “yesterday was great and today is going to be even better.” As I know my plan may not work for everyone, please share yours – you never know whom you might help out this holiday season.

Don’t let life run you. Run life and eat some turkey while you’re at it.

We are anxious to hear your thoughts.

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