Top Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving

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‘Tis the season for turkey, football and family. 

Although Thanksgiving is only one day out of the year, your environment dramatically impacts your body – and turkey day is no exception.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, goodwill – and gluttony. Despite the fact that many people enjoy holiday feasts with abandon, some dieters and healthy eaters worry about consuming too many calories at once.

But is it worth the worry? Here’s what eating one enormous meal (and all the other things that come with it) does to your body, according to experts.

First things, first. Get to your destination! But travelling can be super-stressful, especially when you know everyone is waiting on YOU! So, here are a few tips for smooth holiday travel to wherever you’ll be celebrating your Thanksgiving [1]. Arrived chilled, calm and stress-free and your relatives (and your body) will thank you for it!

Keep an eye on the weather: give yourself the opportunity to adjust your routing before you commit to your departure or route.

Keep up with flight changes and travel advisories: use your airline’s app or apps that track flights. If bad weather occurs, look for travel alerts or advisories on your airline’s website.

Know what your airline will do in the event of long delays or cancellations: the Department of Transportation’s new dashboard outlines what affected passengers can expect [2].

Travel with carry-on luggage: try not to check a bag. It’s only four days.

Plan ahead for carry-ons: during crowded flights, carry-on luggage, heavy coats, and gifts may fill overhead bins quickly. Also, passengers may have to check their roller suitcases at the gate. Take a small bag with you to carry anything you will need quickly – medicines, valuables, et cetera.

Take early morning flights: these tend to go out on time, so no need to worry about delays.

Make parking reservations early: don’t assume there will be space at the airport’s offsite or onsite parking lots. If you’ll be driving – which a vast majority of Americans (nearly 49 million of the 54.6 million travelling for a holiday) will be doing, better to be prepared with parking reservations. 

Avoid highways on Wednesday afternoon: 11 am and 8 pm is expected to be the most congested.

Hit the road early on Thanksgiving Day: The morning hours before 11 am will be less congested on Thursday.

Avoid this later period over the weekend: steer clear of the time between 4 pm and 8 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Overindulging and your microbiome

You arrive at your destination, and it’s officially time for food. Doctor Stephen Juraschek, internist and primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says your stomach expands when you consume a lot of food, potentially causing discomfort. 

A typical Thanksgiving spread includes a lot of starchy dishes, which cause your blood sugar to spike as carbohydrates are converted to glucose, Juraschek adds. As your body processes fats and salts, your blood pressure, cholesterol markers and fluid retention may also increase.

The spikes should reduce within two hours, and most people won’t experience symptoms worse than bloating, headaches or heartburn. Chronic health conditions, however, require more consideration. 

Individuals who have diabetes, for instance, should carefully manage their blood sugar, and those with vascular problems or hypertension are more likely to suffer complications from elevated blood pressure or fluid retention, Juraschek warns. In addition to eating a huge feast, your digestive system also recruits extra energy, and that’s probably what’s causing your post-dinner grogginess – not turkey’s tryptophan [3]. 

Your physical body can only do so many things, and eating a lot of food will use up energy for digestion. It may even feel as if your extremities are a bit cold since extra blood is diverted to your digestive system.

If you’re wondering about the long-term effects of a big meal, the good news is that you’re unlikely to experience any lasting effects no matter how many calories you consume. If you get back to your normal healthy-ish eating after a holiday, what you do isn’t going to have any lasting impact on your health and weight.

You will get excess calories from the meal, but you can only absorb so much in one sitting. It’s more of the longer-term eating pattern – your nomal lifestyle after the holidays that we have to worry about and can potentially affect your healthspan.

Feeling drowsy after eating

The moment has finally arrived, and you are stuffed (and wishing your pants were bigger). The nerves in your stomach stimulate the satiety centers in your brain to let you know you’ve had your fill. 

The problem with these signals is that they are easy to ignore, and we often continue to eat. If you are a fast eater, your brain has difficulty keeping up, and you will probably be past the point of full when you finally start to feel it [4].

Don’t just blame tryptophan for making you feel sleepy. Your stuffed stomach is likely the culprit behind your urge to nap.

 A lot of blood and energy is being directed to your digestive system to break down the big meal you just ate, making you sleepy. So remember to give yourself a break this Thanksgiving and have enough to get your holiday fix, but not enough to put you over the edge.

Exercise – or the struggle of doing it

Getting a workout in on Thanksgiving can be beneficial. Most Thanksgiving dinners are high in calories, especially for those who take part in the time-honoured American tradition of eating themselves into a food-coma [5]. 

If can be beneficial if you exercise hard beforehand, pushing your body to the point where it requires calories replenished. “You’ll need those calories,” says Daniel Stransky, a trainer at DavidBartonGym [6].

Photograph: Nathan Cowley/Pexels

DavidBartonGym’s schedule is fully booked on Thanksgiving morning, They even have a special fitness class, called “Carved.” Holidays are all about taking time for yourself and your family but if working out makes you feel good, go for it.

Stransky recommends a high-intensity interval training cardio circuit that consists of burpees, squats with overhead dumbbell presses, jump squats, sprints and rowing. Exercises like these cause your body to enter a state called EPOC, or exercise after oxygen consumption [7]. 

As with a lawnmower that continues growling after you yank the cord, EPOC causes your body to continue burning more calories than normal after you’ve left the gym. “You can make that meal work for you,” Stransky adds.

Moreover, wearables might be a great stocking stuffer this coming Christmas if you want to take it up a higher notch. These gadgets can help you further monitor your health and zero in on areas you need to improve the most.

Happiness, endorphins and gratitude

Most of the research on gratitude has been done by Dr Michael E McCullough of the University of Miami and Dr Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis. One study asked participants to write a few sentences each week on a specific topic.

Participants in one group wrote about things they were grateful for during the week. The second group reported about daily irritations or issues that annoyed them and the third group wrote about events that affected them (without highlighting their positive or negative impact). 

After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude felt more optimistic and better about their lives. Interestingly, they also exercised more and visited physicians less often than those who focused on aggravating factors.

In a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr Martin E P Seligman compared various positive psychology interventions with a control assignment of writing about early memories. After writing and delivering a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants’ happiness scores immediately increased. A month later, the effects of this intervention were greater than those of any other intervention.

It is important to note that studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. However, most of the studies published on this topic suggest an association between gratitude and wellbeing.

It has also been shown that gratitude can improve relationships in other studies. A study of couples showed that people who expressed gratitude to their partner felt more positive toward that person as well as felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship [8]. Employees who feel motivated to work harder are likely to thank their managers for remembering to thank them. 

In a study conducted by researchers at Wharton School, two groups of university fund-raisers were randomly divided. The first group solicited alumni donations through phone calls as they always had. In the second group, which was assigned to work on a different day, the director of annual giving gave the fund-raisers a pep talk. 

After hearing her message of gratitude, university employees made 50 per cent more fund-raising calls than those who didn’t. The generally positive results in gratitude research are tempered by a few notable exceptions. 

Divorced middle-aged women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. According to another study, child and adolescent thank-you letters may make someone happy, but they do not improve their health. This finding suggests that gratitude is linked with emotional maturity [9].

The bottom line

In an ideal world, you’d arrive safely to your destination, have a great conversation with family, exercise portion control and opt for a produce-heavy plate on Thanksgiving, seamlessly follow-up on your workout routine without feeling too groggy from all the eating – but don’t try not to stress too much (as hard as it may sound). 

You can protect your health and comfort on Turkey Day by following these tips:
Don’t skip breakfast: consuming a light morning meal may stimulate your metabolism and keep you from getting famished before dinner. When the time comes to feast, take your time. Eating at a slower pace results in a greater sense of satiety.

You’ll feel full faster if you slow down your consumption. Leisurely eating also allows your body time to digest, possibly lessening discomfort. Water can also aid digestion and flush out excess salt, so drink plenty of it.

Take a short stroll after dinner: besides burning a few calories, it’s also a great activity to do with loved ones – above all, that’s what Thanksgiving is about [10].

[1] https://www.koamnewsnow.com/i/thanksgiving-travel-guide-how-not-to-stress-during-the-busiest-holiday-travel-season-since-2019/
[2] https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard
[3] https://time.com/4580001/thanksgiving-turkey-tryptophan/
[4] https://www.dochanson.com/post/how-does-thanksgiving-impact-your-body
[5] https://mic.com/articles/129036/heres-the-real-reason-thanksgiving-dinner-makes-you-sleepy-it-isnt-just-tryptophan#.9zu0Nokxe
[6] http://www.davidbartongym.com/
[7] https://www.acefitness.org/blog/5008/7-things-to-know-about-excess-post-exercise-oxygen
[8] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-positive-mindset-can-help-your-heart-2019021415999
[9] https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
[10] https://time.com/5458622/how-thanksgiving-affects-your-body/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.