Thanksgiving is both wonderful and stressful. Add it all up, and the opportunity for indulgence, even overindulgence, is often a major part of the festivities, whether it’s celebratory or stress-induced (or some combination of the two).
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We spoke with the fittest people we know to hear how they manage the holiday. We were wondering how to relax and enjoy ourselves without overdoing it, and they kindly gave us some advice, not to mention, some of their favorite things to eat on the big day.
ON FOODS THEY AVOID
Skip the sauces: “Generally, we keep Thanksgiving relatively clean. Our family is not much for sauces, so gravy is not on the menu. (The turkey stays so moist that we don’t need it.) We will substitute butter with olive oil and use whipped cream made from coconut milk for the pie.”
— Rich Hesketh, athletic development coach at DECAMAN Athletics
Appetizers and alcohol in moderation: “In terms of approaching the main Thanksgiving meal, I try to avoid overconsuming appetizers and alcohol. I find that by moderating those areas, I avoid being uncomfortably stuffed and gorged at the end of the day. I have one rule when it comes to desserts: It has to be homemade. If there are no homemade options, then no dessert for me.”
— Tim DiFrancesco, former strength and conditioning coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and founder of TD Athletes Edge
Avoid dairy: “Regardless of how delicious it may look, cheesecakes, or other creamy dishes or desserts, won’t make it to my plate. Not because I don’t like them, and not because I feel I ‘can’t’ indulge. It’s simply because certain types of dairy just don’t play nice with my GI system and I don’t want to feel terrible.”
— Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons
Portion control: “It’s more the quantity. Have a little bit of everything. And that means a little bit. And eat slow. Chew each bite 21 times. Then you do most of your digestion in your mouth.”
— Marc Coronel, owner of Open Mind Fitness and master instructor for Trigger Point
ON WORKING OUT THAT DAY OR THAT WEEKEND
Stick to the routine: “In terms of workouts on Thanksgiving, I don’t make any special workouts. The problem with treating this as a unique day from a workout standpoint is that you end up playing this game that gives you a warrant to eat like a silly billy just because you did this massive workout. I would rather stick to my normal workout and then eat with a bit of awareness in the right areas. This helps me to live to fight another day.”
“I do not ascribe to the ‘calories-in-to-calories-out’ theory of health and performance. So there’s no rationale for me to ‘run an extra mile’ to ‘burn off my meal.’ That’s simply not how it works. I do, however, make sure that I’m well hydrated and staying on my normal fitness schedule so that I feel my best.”
Go volunteer: “Our family is big on community service. Go somewhere and give someone else your time. Don’t just show up — help set up and clean up. When you’re moving, you’re using energy, you’re burning fuel. And you’re helping your mind.
“If you belong to a gym, awesome. If not, make that effort to go for an extra walk. Or go hiking. Or go apple picking the week before. Set your entire week up with movement. And if you sign up for a 5K turkey trot, do it, and sign up everyone that you know. If someone flakes, no dessert for them!
“Every time someone says the word Thanksgiving, everyone in the room’s gotta drop down and do 10 squats. It’s a swear jar that you pay with sweat equity.”
Bodyweight Circuit: “Our family is very active, so workouts are just part of the day. With that said, I am known to run a holiday circuit for my track and field athletes. A bodyweight circuit fires up the metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day. Because it’s a bodyweight circuit you can do it at home or outside in the yard, so you don’t have to leave for the gym.
“We know the more you get up and down in a workout the more calories you will burn. So, change the height of your center of gravity with a circuit like this. We also like to go out for a walk after dinner even if it’s a stroll. Being outside is good for the soul.”
Holiday Circuit (2 bodyweight exercises followed by a movement pattern over 15–20 meters)
- 20x squats + 40x lying scissor kicks and running high knees (20m)
- 10x pistol squats each + 20x push-ups and double-leg ankle hops (20m)
- 20x push-up plank shoulder touch + 10x each side-plank leg lift and lunge walk (20m)
- 20x dive bomber push-ups + 20x airplane back extension (arm to the side)
- Run 20 shuttles, 4x20m = 80m
ON FAVORITE FOODS
“Our household has a couple of traditional foods that we indulge. I have discovered that if you butterfly a turkey (remove the spine and keel bone) and lay it flat in the roasting pan, then you can cook at a higher heat for much less time and it’s very juicy. I cooked a 10-pound turkey in 90 minutes at 425ºF. Linda, my wife, has a wonderful gluten-free stuffing ring that she makes. Another favorite is mashed yams, but we are careful not to use heavy amounts butter or sugar in it. Believe it or not, one of our 16-year-old son’s faves are Brussels sprouts. Simply trimmed and boiled for 10 minutes with a little butter or olive oil and salt. The last tradition is a pumpkin pie made from farm-grown pumpkin puree (from scratch). I have a fabulous gluten-free crust recipe that satisfies our family members who are gluten intolerant. The real treat for us is that we get together and go around the table saying what we are thankful for at this stage in our lives.”
“I like to shoot for a quality breakfast that has a bit more emphasis on protein and veggies over carbs combined with some fresh fruit. This might look like 2–3 eggs with spinach, 1 slice whole-wheat or sprouted-grain toast with avocado and a side of frozen mangos. My goal with that breakfast is to feel satisfied and avoid going into the main meal of the day starving and looking to demolish anything in sight. During the meal itself, I try to go heavy on any of the veggie-based dishes or salads on the menu. This helps fill me up from the fiber, and the veggies are loaded with healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Outside of that I let myself enjoy all of the classics while trying to stop eating at 90% full. I save the last 10% for dessert.”
“My grandmother’s pumpkin pie. It’s the perfect level of sweetness, not too much but just enough. Plus, it makes me think of her, which is the best part.”
“I love my wife, she’s a great cook. We approach it as ‘Let’s just make a great meal.’ We shy away from the meats. I’m Dutch, so cheese …”
“Remember, Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life, including your health and wellness. So be mindful to consume the things that bring you, your body and your soul joy. You don’t need to overindulge simply because you think you should, and you don’t need to skip everything because it doesn’t fit your macros. Check in with yourself and see what fuels you.”