Make Thanksgiving a healthy habit

By Roy Kim, Nov 24 2014

Thanksgiving evokes warm images of coziness, being around close friends and family and of course a feast of mouthwatering comfort foods. On the downside there are also images of all the stress and hard work involved in cooking up a feast and making sure all of your guests are happy. And many of us will most likely overindulge and may end up semi comatose vegging out in front of a TV. According to the Calorie Control Council, an average American consumes more than 4,500 calories (that’s more than double of the daily recommended) and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving. It’s like the National Calorie Consumption day! Family and food is such a big part of Thanksgiving, how do we enjoy it without ending up feeling like an overstuffed turkey? There are three simple steps that you can take to make this Thanksgiving healthy and fun. And making these steps a part of your daily life you can really rack up the health benefits for a lifetime.

Chew Slowly & Eat Mindfully

Chewing is the first step of digestion and it signals the digestive tract to secrete enzymes that will digest the foods you eat. This process breaks down food into smaller particles that are easier to digest and the enzymes released by your saliva, amylase and lipase, begin the task of breaking down fats and starches. Chewing properly promotes better digestion as well as nutrient absorption. The digestive enzymes and stomach acid target the surface of the food particles, therefore smaller particles will be better digested and the nutrients will be efficiently absorbed. You do not want to inhale chunks of food that will take longer to digest and will require more stomach acid.

Mindfulness, like gratitude, is another healthy habit to adopt for daily life. During Thanksgiving dinner you may find yourself lost due to the array of different foods. Of course you want to try the warm apple pie that is calling your name with that aroma of cinnamon, but also the baked mashed potatoes with a golden crust of bread crumbs and cheese. Brian Wansink, the author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think", has done plenty of research to show that when there is a lot of food in front of us, we will eat a lot of it. Although we do not have much control over our environment like serving on smaller plates, or rearranging the way foods are placed on the table; we do have control over what goes on our plate and how much of it. Be mindful of the portions you place on your plate, chew slowly and take your time before you reach for seconds. When you take a bite and chew it, take some time to be grateful for the person who prepared the food, the person who harvested the vegetable, the soil that nourished the plant, the rain that provided water and the sun that provided energy.

Take the time to really taste the food and enjoy all of the flavors and ingredients. This will improve your digestion, reduce stress, increase happiness and enjoyment and also give the time your brain needs to realize that you are full and prevent you from overeating.

Mindful eating keeps you in the present moment; it reduces overeating and it allows you to be more aware of your body and differentiate between the feelings of hunger, fullness and boredom. It’s a great and simple habit to adopt for every meal we eat on a daily basis and you will notice a mind shift in the way you eat foods and what foods you choose to eat.

Being Grateful Increases Happiness and Health

Gratitude is acknowledging, appreciating and being thankful for what you already have. A growing body of research has been demonstrating the powerful effects of gratitude on our emotional and physical health. Gratitude has been linked to lowering depression, decreasing aches and pain, improving sleep which leads to lower anxiety and stress levels, increase in exercise and of course an increase in positive thoughts and happiness. In addition, expressing gratitude increases self-worth and  improves relationships and communication.

According to Robert Emmons, a research psychologist at the University of California, Davis, expressing gratitude raises the levels of serotonin( the “feel good” hormone) in the brain. Some have found it helpful to keep a gratitude journal to write down three things you are grateful or at the end of the day. It is also important to express your gratefulness to those closest you you because not only does it increase your self-worth and confidence it also cultivates your relationships and increases trust and happiness.If you wish to start your resolutions early, then practicing gratitude is the perfect one to start with on Thanksgiving Day.

Keep Calm & Laugh

Among all of the shopping, cleaning, cooking and setting the table you may find yourself in a stressful frenzy on Thanksgiving day. Ingredients get forgotten, pies get ruined and arguments happen but they may cause a lot of stress and anxiety which leads to high blood pressure and a tendency to overeat or have one too many drinks. It is important to keep calm and laugh it off, you can give yourself 5-10 seconds to get angry but then you must let it go. Eating while under stress really takes a toll on digestion and metabolism because stress activates the “fight or flight” mechanism” which shuts down digestion. In addition, stress may cause spasms in your esophagus, indigestion, nausea and, it can affect your colon causing diarrhea or constipation. Make sure you are calm before you sit at the table or pick up your fork to eat. And we all know that laughter is the best medicine so make sure to keep those smiles coming!

We have this one day out of our busy lives to come together with our friends and families and it is important to spend this time sharing, loving, eating and enjoying each others company. Some of us may not have such an opportunity but we can always practice gratitude as long as we are alive and we can always give back as much as we can.

 

Recommended reading:

Embracing healthy fats

Decoding dairy and meat labels

Food as a basic human need

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