How to Eat a Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner
Eat all the carbs and cheese you want, but still fit into your Acnes. Deal? Deal.
If the fact that we deemed the official beginning of the holiday season—that would be Thanksgiving, duh—worthy of its own dedicated week of extra-healthy eating beforehand didn’t tip you off, allow us to really hit it home: When it comes to food, we don’t mess around. We take our snacking seriously, get grumpy when we skip meals, and can really throw down when it comes to the appetizer menu. And while we have no intention of skimping on the stuffing this Thanksgiving, we did think it would be worth it to have a few healthier options (food hacks, if you will—because you’re not quite a part of the 21st century if you’re not on a never-ending quest for harder, better, faster, stronger) when it comes to sitting down for the feast. And because no one feels us on the whole we-love-fitting-into-Acne-but-we-love-cheese-more thing more than Whitney and Danielle from Sakara Life, we asked them to help a girl out.
“Before we dig in, we have one big caveat we need to cover. As Sakaralites, as co-CEOs, as whole-food, plant-based health foodies, and as empowered individuals on this beautiful planet of ours, we do not believe in rules because we know that rules are made to be broken. The second you set a rule for yourself (we’re talking: you CANNOT eat that, only a piece of turkey the size of your fist, stop after one glass of wine, avoid the dessert table, et cetera), you become a maniac. All you can think about, smell, stare at, and drool over is the very thing you are supposed to be staying clear of, and the second you ‘cheat,’ it’s all over. If you had the cookie you absolutely under no circumstance were allowed to have, then you might as well have five, right?
“So when it comes to holiday parties, and when it comes to life, our only rule is to LOVE. Love your body, love the people around you, love your food, and love yourself. And because it’s Thanksgiving, throw some gratitude in there as well. When you make decisions out of love and gratitude, they cannot and will not cause harm. It’s a fact.
“That being said, we get it. You want to be able to feast on your favorite holiday and not feel like total crap for it over the next couple days. So we’ve compiled some general rules of thumb that we keep in the back of our minds, buried underneath all of that thankfulness. But, trust us, when all there is for appetizers are cheesy stuffed mushrooms and our moms bring out our absolute favorite desserts, we bury these rules of thumb a little deeper and say, yes, please and THANK YOU! We trust our bodies to handle a day of indulgence.”
Sweat it Out: “Start your day with a group sweat session with the fam to kick-start your metabolism before digging in! Make it a special tradition you and your loved ones can share. It can be something traditional, like a local 5k, outdoor hike, or gratitude yoga class, or something a little more out-of-the-box. Flag football, anyone?”
Know Thy Food: “Know what you’re eating. If you get the opportunity to host and cook the meal, or at least have a say in what is being prepared, don’t be scared to take a bold, healthy stab at traditional recipes! We love to do healthy swaps—roast whole sweet potatoes and drizzle with 100-percent pure Vermont maple syrup instead of candied yams with marshmallows, or fresh green beans sautéed with minced garlic and olive oil instead of green bean casserole with canned cream of mushroom soup and funions (yes, it’s a thing). Stick to whole-food ingredients—skip the box, bag, and can—and add in a little extra love.”
The Main Show
Drink & Talk (should be easy enough, right?): “When it comes to appetizers, focus on the conversation and the hydration. Sometimes hunger is mistaken for thirst, so make sure you’re well hydrated so that you don’t overeat. Plus, nothing softens the blow of a food or booze overdose like a perfectly hydrated, powerful body. Chances are your appetizers are about to be pretty bread-centric, so pick wisely. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to fill up on bread before the real meal has even begun. Cutting back on the bread-y stuff will help keep you from feeling overly stuffed like a big ol’ turkey.”
Go Green: “Start your plate with the veggie dishes. Look for whole-food options that look like food: whole sweet potatoes, green beans, homemade cranberry sauce, pumpkin soup, roasted carrots, and brussels sprouts. Start to pile on the meats next, and then end with the richest foods like stuffing, baked potatoes, casserole, and dessert. By the time the truly indulgent rolls around, a few bites here and there will feel like plenty. Worried that you’re headed to a veggie-less Thanksgiving? Be the one that brings a luscious salad to dinner! Toss in seasonal veggies like squash and kale, and top with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. Good hydrating greens will help fill you up so you don’t overdo it on the heavy stuff.”
Put the Phone Down: “Pay attention, engage your five senses, and take your sweet time. We know you are most likely going to be surrounded by some of the best people in the world, but you are also there to enjoy some of your favorite foods in the world. So please, enjoy them. Chew each meal slowly, delicately, and with consciousness. Your mouth produces powerful digestive enzymes that start the process of digestion before the food even gets to your stomach. This level of awareness will, yes, aid in digestion, but more important, it will help ensure you savor each and every bite of those drool-worthy dishes.”
Listen to Your Body: “Often we sit down to Thanksgiving like it’s the Last Supper, eating to the point of discomfort. Food is amazing, but it ain’t going anywhere, so there’s no need to pack it all in now. Instead of eating your way into a food coma, listen to your body’s signals, and remind yourself that there will be leftovers and you can indulge again tomorrow. Cue into your true hunger levels and not your emotional attachments. In the meantime, fill your heart and soul with love and great conversation with your friends and family at the dinner table.”
Walk it Off: “Take a post-dinner walk with loved ones. It doesn’t have to be long, fast, or intense, but just get outside, feel some fresh air on that gorgeous face of yours, and move your body a bit. Not only will this aid in digestion by speeding up the rate at which food moves through your stomach, but it will also help get your mind off those warm pies sitting back on that kitchen counter.”
Let it Digest: “Boost your post-dinner digestion. Pour yourself a warm cup of detoxing tea—think something that has fennel, peppermint, ginger, lemon, chamomile—or pop some digestive enzymes. Our favorite is Floracor: a probiotic-prebiotic enzyme that helps break down all the nutrients you are eating so that you can more efficiently digest everything. The quicker you digest, the quicker you get back to feeling like your ah-mazing self.”
Digest, Uh, Emoitionally: “And when all is said and done, be sure to take some time to remember what Thanksgiving is all about. There is so, so much to be grateful for—including your ability to stuff yourself silly with cheesy, fatty, bready goodness.”
Photographed by Caitlin Mitchell