First things first – you shouldn't be overly concerned about what you'll eat on Thanksgiving. If you've been consistent with your eating habits over the past few months, one major pig out won't even come close to ruining your progress. So RELAX! On the other hand, you won't be doing yourself any favors by consuming 10,000 empty calories in one meal, but that's not really a possibility for most people anyway. In general, don't sweat any of the major eating holidays and instead use them to further your progress.
How to maximize your enjoyment and minimize the negatives of this glorious meal.
First and foremost, don't look at dinner with your family as a test of will power. Allow yourself forgiveness, and enjoy whatever you want. Know that after such an epic meal, you'll be ready to get strict the next day. That said, there are a number of strategies you can employ, on their own or collectively, to help you minimize the damage of a sugary, gravy-drenched feast and/or use the meal to support gains. Here are my favorites.
Pre-Holiday Nutrition and Fitness
Having a planned feast in the future is great motivation for eating clean today. In the days before the Big Meal, think of every salad or piece of chicken eaten as something that earns you “binge tokens”.
Use big eating holidays as a planned re-feed. To do this, cut out about 200 calories a day for the week or two leading up to the holiday. Then, when it's time for the main event, you'll be at a caloric deficit for the week and can pile on all your favorite foods without regret.
In the same vein as the re-feed strategy, you could alternately increase your activity leading up to T-Day and reward your efforts with a feast. An extra day of weightlifting or a little extra cardio on top of your existing regimen should do the trick.
Day of and Pre-Meal Tips
Plan an insane lifting session the night before or morning of the holiday. Think 20 rep squats, full-body, or any high volume workouts. Anything that will leave you feeling drained will fit the bill.
Keep within your daily macros (mostly) by having just a protein shake for breakfast and save the rest for dinner. One day of eating all your calories in one meal won't kill you.
When you first arrive for dinner, avoid mindlessly snacking on hors d'oeuvres and save your appetite for the main meal. Remind yourself that you came to eat turkey swimming in gravy, piles of mashed potatoes, butter-soaked green beans, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, NOT chips and dip. You can have that crap anytime.
The Main Event
Upon arrival and throughout the meal, avoid sugary or carbonated drinks and stick to water. Your food will taste better and you'll get to eat more of it.
Remember that you don't have to put everything on your plate the first time around. You can always have seconds, and your eyes may not be bigger than your stomach by that point. Use the first round to load up on protein, salad, and green or brightly-colored vegetables. Subsequent trips for re-fills can focus on smaller samplings of all the other goodies. If you've had your protein and veg plate, you won't have to hold back when getting seconds, thirds, etc.
Stick to just one dessert. Pick it out before dinner. Fantasize about it. Then dig in and enjoy. If you've had your fill of turkey and ham like you should have by that point, you won't want anymore than one dessert anyway.
The right way – Eat clean in the days before Thanksgiving. Workout in the morning, but do double the volume you would normally do and have just a protein shake afterward. At dinner, feast on protein, veggie dishes, and a little starchy carbs and dessert. Then take a victory nap and dream about your gains. Pick-up right where you left off with your existing program, guilt-free.
The wrong way – Eat like shit the week before. Skip your workout because it's the holidays. Snack on chips, cheese, candy, and dessert before dinner. Load up all of your favorite starches and just a tiny piece of turkey. Don't forget to wash it all down with several glasses of pop. Then feel guilty and take a shame nap. Continue feeling bad from Thanksgiving until after Christmas and eat whatever you want until you make a New Year's Resolution to finally get in shape.
As you can see the right way to approach this holiday is actually the most enjoyable, least mentally and emotionally taxing, and allows you to continue on with your routine without major interruption.
Now, let me know what your proudest Eating Big holiday moment has been. Bragging highly encouraged in the comments section below.