A Healthier, Happier Thanksgiving :: The Connection Between What We Eat and How We Feel

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Thanksgiving Day. . . I love waking up early that morning to start preparing food in the quiet, with the door open, letting the cool crisp air inside the house. I love getting to share the day with my family and I LOVE the food. Doesn’t food just taste better on Thanksgiving Day?

There is so much to enjoy on Thanksgiving, but you know what I don’t love? Feeling nauseous, bloated, and lethargic that afternoon. I don’t love riding the blood sugar spike right after eating and then feeling like junk when it crashes a couple hours later. My sister loves to go Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving night to grab a few popular items that her kids are hoping to get from Santa. Yet, I have to admit there have been multiple Thanksgivings that I had to back out of our shopping tradition at night because I felt way too tired, was a little sick on my stomach, frankly, was just not in a great mood.

We also know that holidays can bring feelings of sadness if we are missing loved ones, which can lead to more overeating and less motivation to get off the couch. This can bleed into the whole rest of the weekend as we continue to eat lots of leftovers with little activity. Our whole holiday weekend can feel like a brain-fogged blur if we are not careful. Here are some healthy tips to help you feel great this Thanksgiving holiday—physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Eat Mindfully

Celebration, Christmas, Cuisine, Delicious, Dinner

Here are some important things to know going into Thanksgiving Day:

  • Carbohydrates contain the neurotransmitter tryptophan, which causes us to feel sleepy and sometimes sluggish/lethargic, hence the well-known “carb coma.”
  • Elevated sugar levels can cause serotonin dysregulation. Serotonin is our “mood hormone” and when it gets thrown off, we can experience feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • Protein releases a satiety hormone, which helps us feel fuller for longer. Protein also helps stabilize blood sugar, which prevents that spike right after the big meal and the crash later. 

If we eat mindlessly and over-indulge in carb-heavy foods or desserts without taking in enough protein or vegetables, we are going to experience the not-so-lovely blood sugar spike with a subsequent carb coma. If you are already battling feelings of sadness because you are missing a loved one on this holiday, then this blood sugar spike is going to make you more likely to feel depressed. This will make you more likely to continue over-eating, and the cycle continues. Then you’ll feel down and guilty about what you ate all weekend. The good news is that there is a way we can avoid this and treat our bodies well, even on a holiday!

Breakfast

Go into the day with a plan. Don’t be strict, but map out where you will be going that day for meals and how you can get your body the nourishment it needs in order to feel great. If you are going to have a big family lunch and/or dinner, then having a huge, carb-loaded breakfast, is not the best idea. You will be in a carb coma before you even hit your first family meal! As mommas, we know how much energy we are going to need to make it through this day, so let’s make our breakfast work for us, not of against us. 

Instead of a carb-heavy first meal like pancakes or waffles, try to pack in some protein and fiber to keep you full and energized; something like a fruit smoothie or eggs would be a great choice. You will be eating PLENTY of carbs the rest of the day, so there is no need for too many of them at breakfast. 

Lunch/Dinner

You may have a big family lunch, dinner, or both that you plan to attend. These meals are meant to be enjoyed, but we can do that wisely. The smartest way to eat our big meals is to eat protein, then vegetables, and then carbs. As I mentioned above, protein is going to make us feel full and also help our blood sugar stay more stable when we are enjoying the dessert table. We have a wonderful protein choice at Thanksgiving—turkey! Eat it up and eat it first!

Eating vegetables next is important, as we want to make sure we still get our recommended vegetables in for the day. If we wait until we eat all the heavy carb-loaded foods, we will have no room for any yummy veggies. Vegetables are nutrient dense and contain fiber, which will help prevent constipation over the weekend and also take up room in our tummies. Vegetable sides are not always present at holiday meals, but they are so important. If you are bringing a side dish to a holiday meal, make a great vegetable dish so that you know there will be an option there for you. Try some yummy roasted carrots, steamed broccoli, brussel sprouts, green beans, or my favorite—sautéed zucchini and yellow squash.

Last, but certainly not least, eat the carbs, such as dressing, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, rolls, etc. The great thing about eating wisely on Thanksgiving is that you don’t have to feel guilty about eating all the delicious foods, not even dessert. Once you get your protein and vegetables in, you can feel proud of yourself for giving your body what it needs to feel great and you can truly enjoy the carbs. 

Keep Active

A great way to help our bodies process the higher level of sugar and carbs we will eat on Thanksgiving is to keep our bodies active. The worst thing we could do after a carb- and sugar-heavy meal is to lay down and take a nap. The reason we want to do this is because of the previously mentioned “carb coma”. The best thing we can do after a big meal is to move our bodies, which will increase our bodies’ need for immediate energy. This movement will use the calories from the food we just ate and lower our blood sugar levels naturally. 

Love, Couple, Outdoors, Romance, Man

Here are some good ways to fit exercise into your Thanksgiving Day:

  • Go on a walk with your family and enjoy the weather. Fall weather in Birmingham is beautiful and it is truly a shame that some people never go outside on Thanksgiving Day because they are too busy in a never-ending eating/sleeping cycle inside. Being outside causes an increase in serotonin, our “happy” hormone”. Also, getting in the sunlight gets you the vitamin D you need to feel energized and focused. 
  • Pick up a football or baseball and enjoy a family game in the yard. 
  • Get your family and friends together to run a Turkey Trot 5K. I am not aware of any happening in Birmingham this year, but you can still do it with your own group on one of the beautiful trails in town.

 

I hope these tips help you enjoy the upcoming holiday while feeling great physically, mentally, and emotionally the whole weekend! This will help you enjoy all that yummy food, the beautiful weather, and, of course, precious quality time with those you love.

 

 

 

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An Alabama native, Caroline studied nursing at Samford University and stayed until she completed her doctoral work. She then started working as a Family Nurse Practitioner, where her main passion is lifestyle medicine. She is also a pastor’s wife and a professor of Women's Healthcare in a nurse practitioner program. When she isn’t working, you can find Caroline at church, exercising, and spending time with her family and friends. Out of all of Caroline’s roles, being a mother and wife are her biggest priority and greatest treasure. She resides in Vestavia with her husband, Kyle, and 1 year old son, Asher, and is currently pregnant with another precious baby boy.

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