5 Tips For a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving With Family This Year

By Lisa Leslie

The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? (Cue the Andy Williams song). Yet, for many, this busy time of year brings more stress than joy.

Along with those bundles of gifts wrapped in sparkly bows, the holidays can be a big bundle of messy and complicated family dynamics, extra busy schedules and added expenses. That stress can really derail our best-laid health goals—especially when faced with seemingly endless cookies, charcuterie boards, and decadent desserts that are inevitably part of Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.

While these are all really valid reasons to stress out, there are also powerful and helpful tools that can help you to minimize stress and avoid eating all the things, so you can genuinely enjoy time spent with family and friends this season.

Whether you have multiple Thanksgivings and Friendsgivings (an actual word since 2020, according to Merriam-Webster!) to attend, and whatever your holiday stress triggers may be, we’re sharing some essential tips to help you navigate your way to a more harmonious, relaxed and mindful Turkey Day this year.

1. Breathe … It’s Just One Day (Out of 365)

As the holiday approaches, don’t forget that Thanksgiving is just one day out of the entire year. This is important to remember not only when it comes to the food choices you make throughout the day, but also with any conversations happening at the dinner table. If you’ve been creating healthy habits, one day of what we like to call “conscious indulgences” won’t change that. So consider loosening the reins a bit and know that your healthy lifestyle will be waiting for you tomorrow. Oh, and indulging a bit on the holidays is actually a part of a healthy lifestyle.

Also, those relatives who insist on trotting out their politics or sharing their pandemic prophecies over turkey won’t be at your dinner table tomorrow, either. (Whew!)

That being said, if you’re so inclined to stay the course, go into the day prepared. Dinner conversation takes a stressful turn? It’s OK to excuse yourself and head outside for some fresh air. Maybe offer to take the dog for a walk. If you’re a guest this year, bring healthy, veggie-dense sides (like these) and reach for those instead. Also, remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in between those Thanksgiving tipples you’re sure to imbibe. (You’ll thank us for this the next day.) And if you’re hosting, try preparing healthy twists on classic dishes–your house, your rules, right? The point is to have a plan but also give yourself grace if it doesn’t go perfectly.

2. Shift Your Mindset

We don’t recommend heading into the day planning to restrict your calorie intake, because that doesn’t typically end well for anyone. Restricting yourself from eating things is negative energy, and why should we focus energy on pushing ourselves to not do things? Focus on the positive instead. If your goal right now is to eat more nutritionally dense foods, think about it in terms of abundance and all that you can eat—like those delicious, nutritious sides you brought to Aunt Mary’s house!

Also, some foods can be bad for you, but eating them doesn’t make you a bad person. What’s most important is to eat from a place of empowerment. The healthiest diet is an approach to eating that fuels your mind and body, and fits into your lifestyle. It’s all about the mindset behind the actual eating of the desert.

3. Practice Self Care

Before the chaos of the day sets in, be sure to carve out some time for yourself (what we at Nutritious Life call “nurturing yourself,” one of our eight pillars) in the morning. Go for a jog, meditate, or practice some yoga in your living room to get the day off to a positive start. And whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast on Thanksgiving morning! Eating breakfast will help balance your blood sugar levels, and help keep you from overeating throughout the rest of the day. And remember to savor the delicious food that’s been prepared for you, enjoying every bite.

Throughout the day, take mindful breaks if needed; step outside, sit in your car, or even hide in the bathroom for a couple of minutes. If necessary, say you need to make a phone call or respond to an email and excuse yourself for as long as you need to regroup.

Give dinner time to digest, and end the day with a walk outside—with or without family members. This is a great way to get in a little movement and also decompress and shake off some of the anxious, built up energy from the day. Do whatever you need to do to protect your mental health—and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

4. Cultivate Gratitude

One of the best ways to ensure a smooth Thanksgiving is to remember what this day is really about—spending time with family and friends, and being grateful for all that we have. The events of 2020 left many of us separated from our family and friends during the holidays, so if you’re able to gather with loved ones this year, remember to embrace their company and all of the awkward, tense, stressful (and, of course, joyous!) moments that come with it. As parents and grandparents get older, we may find ourselves longing for the times we were able to get together with the entire family, even if everything wasn’t perfect.

If you don’t have a gratitude practice yet, consider starting one now so it will be in full force by Thanksgiving.

Here’s a simple one to get you started: Every night, an hour before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for that happened that day. This will train your brain to look for good things throughout the day and has been proven to strengthen the immune system, improve sleep patterns, feelings of optimism, and the ability to experience more joy.

By Thanksgiving, you’ll notice the ease and enjoyment that comes from focusing on all the things you’re grateful for.

5. Set Boundaries and Expectations

As you head into the holiday festivities, the key to avoiding confrontations or uncomfortable situations is to set personal boundaries and realistic expectations. For example, if a topic of conversation comes up that you don’t feel comfortable engaging in, politely say so. If someone comments on your food choices, simply tell them you’re eating what’s best for you and your body, and leave it at that. Or, if you don’t like that response, have your own “one-liner” ready to go in response. If you set a boundary and someone crosses it, you’ve got carte blanche to excuse yourself from the situation. (Time for a bathroom break?)

You know best what to expect from your family members by now, so preparing your attitude and responses in advance is your best bet. You have the power to decide if you want to engage or not, whether the convo is about who you voted for, or what you choose to eat and do with your body for your well-being. Remember, people rarely change their minds in real-time. So if you’re trying to keep the peace at the dinner table, you might be better off skipping the debate this time. Yes, speaking up is important, but knowing what’s best for you is important too, and sometimes it’s just not worth it.

Lastly, don’t forget that people are usually coming from a place of good intention. We don’t always know what’s going on with others or why they might project things onto us, as unfair as it might seem at the moment. It will take patience and self-control, but remember to breathe through any conflict and focus on the big picture. Laugh with your niece, hug your grandma, and hopefully you’ll have a happy, stress-free Thanksgiving this year.

(Image: Shutterstock)

About Lisa Leslie
Owner and lead content strategist at Magnolia Method Consulting

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