Stuffing is only good for turkey. We’ve all had that sick, distended tummy feeling that comes from eating too much too quickly during Thanksgiving lunch or dinner. This Thanksgiving, enjoy your feast (and dessert!) more, and maintain your metabolic health, by following these simple steps.

The Day Before

Did you know that historically, Thanksgiving was as much about fasting as it was about feasting? And for good reason – fasting can help decrease inflammation, dampen nutrient signaling pathways and increase insulin sensitivity prior to a “feast”, which after a fast can promote tissue regeneration and growth factor activity.

To enhance your metabolic health, try a 12 to 16 hour fast with the LIFE Fasting Tracker, starting around 5pm the day before Thanksgiving. You could even create a Circle and invite your friends to join a pre-Thanksgiving fast with you!

Start your fast with a naturally high fiber meal – enjoy some boiled sweet potatoes before you turn them into your Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole dish, a leafy green salad topped with barley and black beans, and/or an assortment of raw fruit for dessert. This will keep you satisfied until tomorrow morning, while giving your body a break from glucose and nutrient signaling before you feast tomorrow!

Thanksgiving Morning

Eat a healthy breakfast on Thanksgiving - it's a marathon, not a sprint! Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash.
Eat a healthy breakfast on Thanksgiving – it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash.

Break your 12 to 16 hour fast with a light meal, perhaps a low glycemic index meal with plenty of plant fibers that will keep you satisfied until lunch. Try some whole grain avocado toast, a homemade kale, banana and strawberry smoothie, or an unsweetened Greek yogurt with raw berries, nuts and coconut shavings. Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to fast until Thanksgiving lunch, you might get “too hungry” to pay attention to your stomach and satiety level during the meal, eat too much on the spot and end up feeling uncomfortable, sluggish and totally unprepared for the spread of pies to come!

Thanksgiving Mid-Morning

Get some post-meal activity!
Get some pre-meal activity like our mobile product manager Matt Ferguson!

Enjoy an early or mid-morning workout or bout of physical activity! Cue the obligatory family flag football game (or trek through the snow, depending on where you live!). Some vigorous physical activity now will help your body be more sensitive to insulin and and take up glucose more quickly when you eat later. If the inevitable argument or family feud is something you’d rather avoid, try jogging, cycling, a vinyasa yoga flow or weight training.

Insulin resistance or high blood sugar levels are prominent biomarkers of diabetes and are associated with a range of negative psychological effects and health outcomes. High blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia can cause nausea, stomach pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and a rapid heartbeat in the short term. Long-term complications of hyperglycemia and diabetes include eye damage, kidney damage, damage to heart tissue, stroke and nerve damage. High levels of glucose in the blood have also been associated with increased risk of some cancers; cancer cells with high energy requirements have even been found to promote insulin resistance in normal tissues to fuel their own growth. For these and many other health reasons, you want your muscles, liver, brain, fat and other tissues in your body to be quick to take up glucose and sensitive to insulin.

An anti-inflammatory diet and regular exercise are helpful interventions to keep various tissues, from muscles to brain tissue, insulin sensitive and metabolically flexible. A major determinant of insulin sensitivity is the ability for glucose to be converted into glycogen (stored glucose) in skeletal muscle. Glycogen is one of the primary fuel sources for skeletal muscle during exercise, and quickly becomes depleted during high intensity exercise.

“We often see an improvement in glucose control, or a decrease in insulin resistance, following exercise,” says Tim Allerton, an exercise physiologist by training and a postdoctoral researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “This improvement in glucose control is related to muscle glycogen levels. Consistent exercise, especially glycogen-reducing exercise (think high reps during resistance training), helps patients with diabetes reduce their circulating blood glucose by transporting and storing glucose in the muscle as glycogen.”

All the more reason to take a job, participate in your local “Turkey Trot” run, attend a family-friendly yoga class or otherwise do some exercise Thanksgiving morning! Get those muscles ready to soak up all that extra sugar you’ll be having for lunch.

Thanksgiving Lunch

Thanksgiving greens. Eat your Thanksgiving meal mindfully to enjoy every bite and avoid overfilling! Credit: PeopleImages
Thanksgiving greens. Eat your Thanksgiving meal mindfully to enjoy every bite and avoid overfilling! Credit: PeopleImages

It’s time to feast!

It’s time to celebrate. Don’t try to restrict yourself during Thanksgiving lunch by avoiding certain dishes or food groups. Instead, fix a little bit of everything. Fill your plate first with vegetables, legumes and whole grains – green beans, carrots, collard greens, sweet potatoes, beans, etc.. Layer on the lean meat like turkey breast. With the room you have left on your plate, fix a taste of your favorite red meat and carb-loaded Thanksgiving dishes.

Before you dig into your plate, take a moment to breathe and take in all the smells and colors of your plate. Take a fork-full of each dish at a time, savoring each bite. As you eat, take some pauses to chat with the person next to you, comment on how wonderful the food is, take some swigs of water or wine. After you’ve tasted everything, decide what you want to eat more of based on how you feel and what tasted best to you. Be ok with leaving food on your plate today – again, it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Best of all, what isn’t eaten can become our favorite way to relive the holiday feast: Thanksgiving leftovers.

This mindful eating approach to Thanksgiving will not only help you enjoy the meal more and notice all the tastes and flavors, but will help you tune into your satiety level and stop eating before you reach that point of being completely uncomfortable or “stuffed.” Plus, you want to leave room for dessert!

After Lunch

Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash.
Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash.

It’s time for our favorite Thanksgiving activity – the post-meal jaunt with family and friends! Perhaps before you tackle dessert, take a stroll down the street or around your neighborhood, or ask a friend or family member if they want to throw a football (or snowballs!) around with you in the yard. Just a bit of casual physical activity after lunch will help your food go down, so to speak.

Physical activity after you eat helps you to burn some of the carbohydrates that you just consumed, bringing your blood sugar levels down. It may also help with digestion. Combined with your pre-feast exercise Thanksgiving morning, physical activity today will help your tissues soak up, use and store the glucose floating around in your blood.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Homemade turkey leftover sandwich with cranberry sauce. Credit: Happy Lark.
Homemade turkey leftover sandwich with cranberry sauce. Credit: Happy Lark.

The best thing about Thanksgiving is that it often goes all day long. After some family discussions and a walk or two after lunch, you’ll be ready to eat again!

Take a lighter approach to your Thanksgiving dinner, especially if you are eating after sundown. Go back to only your favorite dishes, with a focus on vegetables and raw fruits.

After enjoying an early Thanksgiving dinner, set your LIFE Fasting Tracker timer and fast again until tomorrow morning – your stomach, and Thanksgiving leftovers, will thank you! If you stay up late with friends and family, enjoy some unsweetened spiced or chamomile tea around the kitchen table instead of “empty calories” in the form of sugary drinks or alcohol, which can disturb your sleep and by extension your blood sugar control.

Congratulations! You are on your way to a healthier Turkey Day!