Counting Gravy Calories: How to Find a Healthy Balance this Thanksgiving

By Alex Hoffmann on November, 4 2020
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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

If you’re counting gravy calories, you’re probably trying to have a healthier Thanksgiving holiday. As with other aspects of 2020, Thanksgiving is sure to feel much different this year than in the past, but one constant remains: the emphasis on food. 

Whether you celebrate with immediate family, a small group of socially distant friends or your significant other, those traditional comfort foods are likely to taste more soothing than ever this time around. However, with such classics as turkey and stuffing or mashed potatoes and gravy, there’s the annual trap of overeating too. 

This occasion is meant to be pleasurable, not a source of guilt over calorie intake. But filling yourself to excess is both uncomfortable and unhealthy which goes beyond just the risk of a few inconvenient “holiday pounds.” In fact, consuming a meal that’s unusually high in carbs and fats can increase blood vessel inflammation and stiffen arteries, according to the Laboratory Investigation

So how do you prioritize wellness and nutrition without skimping on enjoyment? Stop counting gravy calories and instead, use these tips to find a healthy balance. 

Keep Reading: Aerobic Exercise Benefits for Stress Management

 

Avoid Meal Restriction Leading Up to Thanksgiving Dinner

While it’s common to forego breakfast and lunch on Thanksgiving to “save” calories for dinner, this can actually have the opposite effect. “When you intentionally fast in order to feast, your brain is essentially planning for a binge…You should never, ever let yourself get so ravenous that you will just eat anything,” says Dr. Lisa Young, an adjunct nutrition professor at New York University. 

The forced deprivation also causes your blood sugar to fluctuate which can further intensify cravings, she continues. Instead, Dr. Young advises eating small-portion meals that contain fiber and protein. Think: eggs with fruit or toast with nut butter for breakfast, then hummus with vegetables for lunch.  

 

Look for Fun Ways to Be Active During the Day

If the local Turkey Trot is canceled this year due to COVID-19, you can still incorporate some movement into the holiday, while maintaining social distance. You don’t have to enforce a strict exercise regimen on yourself, but it’s important to do something active before and after the meal. 

For example, between appetizers, drinks, entrees and desserts, a Thanksgiving dinner can exceed 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat, according to the Calorie Control Council. Combine this with a sedentary pastime like watching football, and it’s no wonder “food comas” are considered normal after the big dinner.

Rather than sprawling on the couch, move your body with these simple ideas:

  • Toss a football around between quarters. 
  • Take a walk after dinner. 
  • Play a game of fitness charades. 
  • Set up your own pre-dinner obstacle course.

Here are some more ideas to make exercise fun on Thanksgiving day.

 

Fill Most of Your Plate with Veggies and Protein

When it’s time to load your plate, don’t abstain from your favorites, but indulge in moderation. Ensure the bulk of your meal consists of vegetables and lean proteins. Aim for as much as 2.5 cups of raw or cooked vegetables, suggests the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines, and choose non-starchy varieties with minimal cream sauces, butter, and salt. 

Carrots, leafy greens, or Brussels sprouts are all excellent choices, and if you want a slice of turkey, the USDA recommends skinless white meat. If you want to indulge a little more, grab a biscuit or corn muffin and a scoop of mashed potatoes, or another carb item, but focus on portion control, starting with a smaller amount and taking more as needed.

Keep Reading: Prenatal Nutrition for Active Women

 

Listen to Your Body and Practice Mindful Eating

Mindfulness at the dinner table has been linked to a decrease in emotional or comfort-based overeating, according to Frontiers in Psychology. When you slow the pace of a meal and tune into how each bite makes you feel, it’s easier to notice when you’re full and put the fork down. Here are a few things to tune into as you eat: 

  • Noticing the flavors and textures in your mouth. 
  • Chewing and savoring the food completely, instead of rushing to swallow. 
  • Expressing gratitude for the ability to nourish yourself. 
  • The communal aspect of the meal. 
  • Your hunger cues when debating if you can make room for seconds or a sliver of pumpkin pie.

You Don’t Have to Keep Counting Gravy Calories

You don’t need to count gravy calories on the big day and deprive yourself of the foods you look forward to indulging in, but a healthy balance is important. You can enjoy a meal that is both nutritious and delicious—without counting every calorie going in. Make time for movement, practice mindful eating, and avoid meal restriction to enjoy yourself without pushing your body to the brink.

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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

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