How to Eat Less Sugar This Thanksgiving
If you’ve decided to dive into my Sugar Free 3 program over the holidays, you are my personal hero and I want to do everything I can to support you.
But even if you’re not in the throes of Sugar Free 3 — or you’re in maintenance mode having completed the initial three weeks — chances are you still want to curb your sugar intake. We all should.
Sugar is a known dietary evil that depletes your energy, causes you to crave more sweet stuff, and packs on unhealthy pounds (for starters).
Another truth about sugar: It is seductive. Eating it releases pleasure-producing dopamine, a hormone that increase your happiness … temporarily. The good feelings never last, and often, you end up feeling way worse than before you indulged.
But nobody wants to feel deprived on Thanksgiving. So I came up with the following 10 tips to help ensure you enjoy Turkey Day, minus the sugar-fueled hangover.
1. Move in the Morning
Exercise is always a good idea: it stokes your energy and metabolism and improves your mood. On top of that, moving your body sets a healthy tone for the day that you’re more likely to maintain than if you lazed around in bed.
2. Forget About Saving Your Calories
I know it’s tempting to “save up” all of your calories for the main meal, but that’s a trap —one I’ve fallen into many times. Allowing yourself to get ravenous weakens your willpower, tempting you to scarf down anything and everything the second food is placed in front you.
A better plan: Eat a healthy and satisfying breakfast, such as eggs with greens and avocado or oatmeal, yogurt or cottage cheese topped with berries. Be sure to check the label of any dairy to make sure it doesn’t have added sugar.
3. Stay Hydrated
For something so plain, water has some pretty amazing powers. It helps you feel full, pushes food through your system, can help reduce bloat, and aids digestion. Plus, it can help boost your energy and focus.
Start out the day by drinking a tall glass of water (even before coffee) and keep hydrating intermittently throughout the day. By staying adequately hydrated you can stave off those hunger and sugar pangs. If regular H2O doesn’t do it for you, try a flavored seltzer, provided it has no added sugar.
4. Sidestep Stress-Eating With Self-care
Spending time with family can be energizing or depleting —and sometimes, both! And this year, the stress you experience may stem from being separated from loved ones due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions or limits on the size of gatherings. When we’re stressed, we tend to reach for sugary foods — and there is actually an anthropological reason for that .
Back in caveman days, stress usually came in the form of danger and eating something with sugar (fruit, most likely) provided the energy to physically escape that danger. The majority of the stress we experience today tends to be of the mental or emotional (and also chronic, not acute) variety — but the instinct to reach for sugar “fuel” still gets triggered. The problem? With no real need to expend the energy running away, that sugar eventually gets stored as fat.
The best way to counteract the impulse to reach for sugary foods when stressed is to stress less to begin with. Whether it’s taking a bath, doing breathwork, exercising, or meditating, find a stress-reduction technique that works for you — and employ it as often as possible, not just on stressful days.
5. Be Prepared for Sugar Pushers
Every family has at least one — the relative who judges you, shames you, or generally makes you feel guilty for trying to eat healthfully. Don’t let them do it this year! Stay strong and know this: It’s not about you, it’s about them.
They may not feel fantastic about their own choices and they don’t want to be stranded alone on temptation island. Stick to your plan, and after a few failed attempts, most sugar pushers will stop trying to lead you astray.
6. Don’t Show Up Empty Handed
There’s only one way to guarantee you have some low- or no-sugar food options at the table: Bring them yourself. Most hosts are grateful to have a little help, so offer to bring an appetizer, side dish, salad or healthyish dessert.
Some ideas include: veggie tray with spreads such as hummus and tzatziki; kale Caesar salad with cider vinaigrette instead of the traditional Caesar dressing; green beans with slivered almonds; butternut squash noodles; lower-sugar pumpkin pie, like this recipe that only has five grams of sugar per serving.
7. Choose Your Food Wisely
Not all dishes are created equal — some are packed with nutrients, while others are empty-calorie sugar bombs.
If your family is carrying on the tradition of serving mashed sweet potatoes crowned with marshmallows, simply bypass the topping and scoop out the orangery goodness.
Greens are generally a safe bet — salads, green beans, broccoli. And cranberry sauce is often just a sugary red gelatin — so it’s probably best to skip. Unless you want to make your own with this recipe for a stevia-sweetened cranberry sauce that doesn’t have any added sugar!
8. Beware of Liquid Sugars
Sugar in liquid form is the most insidious because you can down a lot of it quickly. Obviously, avoid sugary sodas and sweetened teas.
If you’re going to drink alcohol, skip the sweet mixers and opt for a clear liquor (tequila, vodka, gin) with club soda and a squeeze of citrus or dry red wine, which has the lowest levels of sugar (as far as wine is concerned), plus some redeeming health qualities such as the antioxidant resveratrol.
9. Eat — and Indulge — Mindfully
Mindful eating isn’t some fringe behavior practiced only by yogis and wellness gurus — it’s a well-researched and proven technique for better health.
The basics of mindful eating are pretty simple: You savor your food as you eat it by engaging all of your senses, and you eat it slowly. This allows you to truly enjoy and appreciate the food you’re consuming, and it helps you tune into when your body is sated.
And mindful eating starts before you eat. It’s about deciding: Do I really want this? What is my body — not my mind — telling me? If you decide you really do want something sweet, then have it as a conscious indulgence and enjoy thoroughly, without any guilt!
10. Leave the Leftovers
If you want to bring home some turkey to make a sandwich (on sugar-free bread!) the next day, go for it. But do yourself a favor and leave behind the pecan pie and cookies and let someone else make sure they “don’t go to waste.”