Many have spent the last several years assuming that it’s the tryptophan in Thanksgiving turkey that makes you feel sleepy. While tryptophan is indeed an amino acid that prompts the brain to produce more serotonin (a calming agent), there technically isn’t enough present in turkey to produce a sedative effect and tryptophan works best on an empty stomach, which typically isn’t the case on Thanksgiving day. So, what’s the real cause of your sluggish feeling on Thanksgiving? Overeating! The high carbohydrate consumption, alcohol intake and the sheer amount of calories (the average Thanksgiving meal is 3,000 calories) causes your body to work overtime.
Ideally, you wouldn’t put your body through this extra work of digesting 3,000 calories. But, of course, there’s so much temptation this time of year. With all of the carbs (potatoes in every form! bread! desserts!), mixed drinks, dessert drinks and of course, delicious pies, it can be hard to slow your food intake.
I tell my patients that everything is fine in moderation, and Thanksgiving meals are no exception. 3,000 calories is far from moderate, and I stress to everyone that you should treat your Thanksgiving meal just like any other day when it comes to nutrition. Listen to your body, pay attention to consumption, and really try and curb your cravings. The true holiday of Thanksgiving isn’t about the food, but being grateful for everything you have, including (and especially!) your health.
Here are some ways to alter your Thanksgiving philosophy this year:
Prepare a Healthy Alternative
The first step to eating cleaner this Thanksgiving is to bring a healthy item for everyone to enjoy. Trust me, even your family and friends will appreciate having a healthy option. Instead of adding sugar to your sweet potatoes, try dicing them in cubes and baking them in sea salt and olive oil. Sprinkle some basil and shredded parmesan on top for the last few minutes of baking for some added flavor.
Use a Small Plate
This may sound odd or even a little too simple, but when you hit the appetizer and food line, carry a small plate with you. You’ll fit less on it and it will force you to pay more attention to how many trips you’re making through the line. As for what goes on your plate, keep healthy portions in mind. The majority of your plate should consist of lean protein (yes, turkey!) and vegetables. Indulge a little with one carbohydrate option (the healthy sweet potatoes above are great) and allow yourself a little room for dessert.
Listen to Your Body
Just like you do the rest of the year, pay attention to how full you are and if you even want to eat what you are thinking of grabbing. When we see all of the food set out in front of us, our brains begin sending craving signals. Before you know it, you can over eat and be left feeling sluggish and uncomfortable. Instead of grazing on all the sweets and carbs right away, eat your fill of protein and vegetables. This will take the edge off when you’re in line for seconds. Really think about what you’re reaching for and if it’s worth the extra work for your body and for yourself to burn off the added calories. Awareness is key throughout the holidays and the rest of the year to make sure you only eat until you’re full.
Adopt a Philosophy of Gratitude
Take your mind off food by looking around you and really appreciating what you have to be thankful for. Your family, friends, career, and especially your health are all things to be thankful for. Gathering so many people, as a host or even just as a guest, can be stressful to organize, but don’t let this outweigh the reason for getting together with loved ones. Enjoy your time with the ones you appreciate most, and take time to reflect on your good fortunes in life. We all take our wel-being for granted from time to time, and by bringing awareness to it, you can better enjoy your moments of health, happiness and gratitude this Thanksgiving.
Take time to thank your loved ones for their supportive presence in your life–and don’t forget to do the same! And who knows, by adopting healthy habits this holiday, you just might inspire your family to be more aware of their gift of health, too.
Happy Thanksgiving and Best of Health,
Dr. Chad M. Hoffman