‘To Track, or Not To Track – That is the Question’
A common thing you’ll hear this time of year is people, especially nutrition coaches, preaching to ‘stay on track’ during the holiday season. To not let yourself fall victim to the temptations of saying ‘F&$K IT!’ to your nutrition plan, with all the get-togethers this time of year. In full disclosure, I AM one of those coaches who believes in this message and has been putting out my own social media content on the matter. One of the most popular questions I’ve been getting from my clients has been, “How should I handle Thanksgiving? Should I track my macros that day?” Prior to sharing my tips and strategies on how to navigate Thanksgiving from a nutrition perspective, here’s my immediate answer:
Do what makes YOU happy : )
And, before you ask, I will NOT be tracking all of my macronutrients on Thanksgiving. I will be tracking my protein intake and making sure I hit my target, however, I couldn’t care less where my carbs and fat fall. Especially since I love me some pumpkin pie and it has allll the carbs and fat!
If tracking your macros on Thanksgiving makes you happy, then by all means, rock out with your bad self! If it mitigates your anxiety, then you do you! Or, if you just are that Type-A person who doesn’t let anything get in the way of your dedication to tracking, more power to ya’! There’s ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with it, as it really is just another day that ends in ‘y’, despite the fancy ‘Thanksgiving’ title it may have. On the flipside, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with NOT tracking! As I always say, one day of not tracking is not going to mess you up or undo all the hard work you’ve been doing. And, we have to remember what they day is truly about – it’s a day to spend time with your loved ones and appreciate all you’re thankful for. Sorry to burst your bubble, but while it may seem like the food is the focus of the day, it’s not.
The last thing I want to worry about when your family is dishing up their plates and sitting around the dinner table is weighing and measuring every little thing you’re putting on yours.
Flexible eating is exactly that, flexible. It shouldn’t impact your life any more than it needs to. You should be able to enjoy these times while eating in a way that supports, and is favorable to, your body composition and health. One of the biggest rules of a successful, SUSTAINABLE diet is that you can eat whatever you want, in moderation. I want you to head into your Thanksgiving meal next week confident in your food choices and to enjoy every second of your time with your loved ones. If you want a slice of pumpkin pie, have one! Dish yourself up a piece, enjoy every savory bite and then move on. Moderation is huge in flexible dieting success and one piece of pumpkin pie is not going to completely sabotage all your hard work. That being said, one piece of pumpkin pie, three sugar cookies, a few pieces of fudge, and a handful of sugared pecans will. Not tracking does NOT mean turning into a competitive eater for the day!
If you’ve decided that you want to still track your macros on Thanksgiving, here are some tips for how to approach the day:
#1 Do some time-restricted feeding. Skip breakfast and hold off on having your first meal for as long as you can. This is going to back load much of your macros to where you have so much more to play with, and will ultimately to much less meal-restriction, come Thanksgiving dinner.
#2 Hit your protein first. Fill your plate with the amount of turkey or ham you need to meet the remaining protein for the day. Didn’t pack your scale or just feel silly weighing at your weird Uncle Chester’s house? That’s okay. Guesstimate as close as possible – reference the following image for portion sizes using your hand, palm and fingertips when you are trying to guesstimate.
#3 Fill almost the rest of your plate with vegetables. These are nutrient dense and will fill you up without completely pushing you over on carbs and fats. They also are a great source of fiber, which is going to leave you feeling more satiated than other foods.
#4 Stay away from foods heavy in fats (or at least be mindful of them). Gravy, butter, stuffing, and Grandma’s cheesy casserole all contain higher fats and fats are very easy to go over on. By avoiding these items, you are giving yourself a better chance at staying as close as possible to your daily macros while guesstimating your meal.
#5 Keep carbs and fats low in the start of your day. Knowing you are going to be enjoying a piece of pumpkin pie and/or a serving of mashed potatoes at dinner, save your precious carbs and fats for your holiday meal. Opt for meals leading up to Thanksgiving dinner that are almost entirely comprised of protein and veggies – nutritional compromise!
#6 Enjoy the time with your loved ones and stop stressing about being exact on your macros! No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be able to account for every single ingredient in Grandma Jean’s sweet potato casserole. Do your best, but don’t drive yourself crazy.
If you’ve decided that you don’t want to track your macros on Thanksgiving, here are some tips for how to approach the day:
#1 Taking a day off from weighing/tracking your food doesn’t give you permission to eat like a total asshole . Don’t use the day as an excuse to eat everything you lay your eyes on. Be sensible and practice moderation.
#2 Get a great night’s sleep (7-8hrs) the night before Thanksgiving. Your hunger hormones are greatly effected by sleep-deprivation, so if you get a poor nights sleep Wednesday night, you can bet your ass you’re going to find yourself hungrier the next day and thus, more prone to over-eating.
#3 Do some time-restricted feeding. Skip breakfast and hold off on having your first meal for as long as you can. This is going to bank those calories/macros you would have eaten for later in the day, allowing you to worry even less about the ‘damage’ your Thanksgiving meal could be doing.
#4 Meal structure. Front load your meal with a lot more veggies and protein. Veggies are going to provide you with a lot more volume to your meal, for very little caloric impact. On top of that, veggies have fiber and fiber makes you full, so the combination of volume and fiber will leave you feeling satiated much quicker. Add protein to the mix, another very satiating macro, and you’re going to be full before you know it and likely not have the desire to eat too much of the calorically-dense dessert options that are sure to come.
#5 Be aware of when you’re satisfied. Ask yourself with everything you are about to eat: “Is this really worth it to have more of this? Is this enough? Am I satisfied?” Don’t restrict yourself and then turn it into a binge, eating simply for the sake of eating.
#6 Know what kind of eater you are. Some people are the type where they can load up their plate, eat until they are satisfied, and then stop, even with food remaining on their plate. Others (me) are the type who have to finish everything on their plate in front of them – whether it’s their own decision or Mom’s/Grandma’s rule. If you’re the latter, make sure you are mindful of how much you are putting on your plate. Put a little bit of everything, check off that you go to try everything, and move on.
#7 Drink, drink, drink. And no, I don’t mean booze! Think water, diet soda, and seltzer water. These options are calorie-free and by filling up on them prior to and during your meal, they can serve as appetite suppressants.
#8 Use a small plate. As a culture, we tend to want to fill up our entire plate with food, as if it’s a requirement. By using a smaller plate, you will inherently be able to put less food on that plate and thus, will be prone to eating less.
#9 Always be asking yourself: “In 5 years, will I regret not having Grandma’s famous pumpkin pie (or, insert other food item), because I was fearful of it throwing off my macros? In five years, will eating three pieces of dessert ONE DAY of the year affect my life’s future?” They may sound like silly questions, but think about it and don’t regret saying no to family-treasured recipes, because you were afraid it was going to set you back in your health & fitness goals. You have your ENTIRE LIFE to continue to strive to feel and look the best you can. You know what you don’t have?! Time to allow fear of food to ruin precious time with the ones you LOVE!!
Regardless of which camp you fall into, by following the tips, above, and making SMART decisions about your food, you will not reverse all the hard work you’ve already put in. Choose wisely, keep moderation in mind, and go to bed happy knowing you didn’t eat until you were stuffed, and that you’re still headed in the right direction with your progress. That being said, if you are heaping your plate and eating as much as possible with the attitude of, “I already messed up, so I’m going buck wild!” you will probably wake up the next day feeling, and weighing in, heavier. What should you do the day(s) after Thanksgiving? Get right back on track with your normal macro targets and plan. Don’t punish yourself by eating less. Don’t punish yourself by exercising more (however, the extra calories and carbs WILL make for a damn good workout that next day, so take advantage of it!). Most importantly, don’t let the holiDAY spiral into a holiDAYS or a holiWEEK.
A final, friendly reminder – this isn’t the last time you’re ever going to be able to enjoy these Thanksgiving foods, so you don’t need to act as if you’ll never be able to eat them again. The beauty of tracking your macros and flexible dieting is you have freedom and flexibility in what you can eat, so there’s no need to try and fit everything into one meal or day. Want pumpkin pie the week after Thanksgiving? Go get yourself some! You aren’t swearing it off forever – remember, we don’t believe in strict meal plans.
Enjoy your time with your loved ones! When we are old and looking back on life, we are going to remember the memories made not whether we hit our macros or not. Things can change in a flash so appreciate the time spent with your loved ones and minimize the time spent on your phone (and MyFitnessPal) for a day. Grab the bull by the horns, take control of your decisions and actions, have a plan, and remember, you have the power!