Updated November 20, 2018
By Jeff Novick, MS, RDN
Thanksgiving is often thought of as time of feasting and indulgence and, for many, it means a time of overindulgence. As food is central to many of our celebrations and our health, I want to share some personal thoughts on Thanksgiving.
Throughout history, many cultures have enjoyed great feasts to mark the important and joyous occasions of the year. These feast days traditionally occurred only a few times a year and any overindulgence was confined to these few days of celebration. However, today, the spirit of celebration and the notion of a “little indulgence” have been taken to extremes as more and more Americans treat every day and every meal as a holiday and a time to overindulge.
Over the past 40 years, rates of excess weight, obesity and related health problems have increased rapidly. Today, almost three-fourths of American adults and over one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight. This extra weight increases an individual’s risk of developing many chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer.
Every day throughout the year, American meals tend to provide portions that are too large and have excess fat, salt, sugar, and calories. A large disparity exists between recommendations for a healthful diet and actual food consumption habits. Excessive intakes of salt, solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans-fatty acids), added sugars, and refined grains often replace intakes of healthful, nutritious foods, making it difficult for people to achieve recommended nutrient intake while controlling calorie intake. The negative health effects of these eating habits are further compounded by the sedentary lifestyles of many Americans.
Commitment to a healthful diet is one of the most important components—if not the most important component—of an individual’s overall health and well-being. A healthful diet is one that emphasizes minimally processed fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, intact whole grains and legumes, and limits the intake of salt, saturated fats, added sugars and sweeteners, solid fats and oils and refined grains. The key to achieving and maintaining a healthful weight—during the holidays and all year-round—is to live a healthful lifestyle on a day-to-day basis that includes healthful eating, regular physical activity, and stress management.
Following is one of my favorite food quotes of all time, and it comes from the book The Life We Are Given by George Leonard and Michael Murphy. I think it has a powerful message that is appropriate for this time of the year.
“Finally, how we eat, just as is the case with how we exercise, stands as a fundamental expression of our embodiment and is thus important to our practice, not merely for the benefits it might bring but for its own sake. To eat with full awareness turns us toward a diet that is both good and good for us. It rejoins us with the matrix of our existence and can inspire us with thanksgiving for the everyday wonder of food, the everlasting miracle of the life we are given.”
The holidays are a time to celebrate, give thanks and, yes, perhaps for some of us, to even overindulge a little. It is important to remember, however, that Thanksgiving is just one meal on one day and is not the start of a month–and–a–half-long celebration. The very occasional indulgence on the very occasional holiday (i.e., the actual day and meal itself) will most likely not be damaging to overall health and well-being for most of us if healthy eating and exercising take place on a regular, consistent, daily basis throughout the rest of the year.
The holidays are times to focus on family and friends—not just food. Catching up and sharing laughs with loved ones will allow you to feel the spirit of the holidays more than a second helping of pie. If you do indulge a little to celebrate, be careful and do so without throwing all caution to the wind or hurting yourself. And remember, your body is never not watching!
So, during this upcoming holiday season of thanksgiving and celebration, let’s not forgot to take a moment and reflect, celebrate, and give thanks for those things that are truly the most important and of the most value to us…our lives, our health, our friends, and our families.
Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.