5 Tips for a Guilt-Free Thanksgiving Feast

On Thanksgiving Day 2011, leaders of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry (2-135 Inf.) serve the troops of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division "Red Bulls" on Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
On Thanksgiving Day 2011, leaders of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry (2-135 Inf.) serve the troops of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division "Red Bulls" on Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Lynette Hoke)

National Diet Cheat Day is almost upon us. Many Americans are thankful for this day of feasting as it can bring together family, friends and lots of food with no excuses. If you are considering making Thanksgiving Day your "cheat day" and combining eating a masterfully prepared meal with sitting around watching football, parades and dog shows, try some of these ideas to help with some activity.

Get the Physical Activity Done Before Eating

There are many tradition-making ideas to get you moving on Thanksgiving morning.

The low-hanging fruit for physical activity can start with home and yard cleanup if you are hosting a dinner. Local Turkey Trots for a good cause are also available in most areas, or you can make your own family/friend-oriented Turkey Trot. If you have a big family or group of friends, maybe create your own Turkey-Bowl Flag Football game. These are all great ideas for morning activity.

Start a Tradition

My own Thanksgiving Day workout consists of current students and prior students who are back home on leave for a traditional run and calisthenics, along with some lifting workouts. While they have varied in detail over the past 25 years, having a mini-reunion with old friends is a fun hour or so.

It has been more of a reunion than a typical difficult workout, but remembering where you came from is also a nice touch. Long before this tradition, when I would go home, my high school buddies and I would meet old coaches in the morning at the high school and have the gym to ourselves.

I am sure this is where I got the idea to continue creating a moment for former students to join in a homecoming workout. If you are a coach, consider building a new tradition if it fits your abilities and facilities.

Other Go-To Ideas

If you have a home gym, you still can get your normal workout done. But if you do not, consider getting a run or walk done. Map out a course that guides you past a school playground where you can use monkey bars as pull-up bars. The Classic PT Pyramid or Calisthenics Super Set of Pull-ups, Push-ups, Squats and core exercises like plank poses can help you accumulate Murph-like numbers to burn plenty of calories prior to refueling with a classic turkey dinner with all the fixings.

Endurance Events

Another idea is to go for an extended outdoor adventure, such as a long walk, ruck, run or bike ride, to take in fresh air and beautiful scenery. If you have access to trails and fun pathways, great. If not, find a track or a nice area to walk.

If normal physical activity is not a daily habit, you may not want to do anything too difficult and just start with a short walk. Feel free to break it up as a before-and-after activity while walking the family dog, who may be stressed out with everyone around. Plus, these holiday family get-togethers are not without their unique stresses. Walking outside and stretching before, during and after the event can help you deal with typical family dramas that tend to play themselves out when loved ones get together.

Many will argue that feeling guilty about eating large meals is not healthy. While that may be true from a mental health point of view, understand that the energy balance that takes place each day is rooted in making a habit of healthy eating and physical activity.

There is no need to feel guilty for overeating and not fitting in any physical activity for a day, but if this is a daily habit and you carry caloric surpluses to bed every night, you will soon be battling excess pounds, buying new clothes that fit and a general difficulty doing the things that were once easy.

Consider Portion Control

If you really want to test your diet discipline, consider placing a large salad on a dinner plate, top it with turkey and let that be your first course. Then place all the "good foods" on a salad plate and enjoy the good-tasting foods you like but in smaller portions.

Make the most of your Thanksgiving by staying active and healthy, setting a positive example for friends and family as you enjoy your feast. With a little effort and motivation, you can start and end the day with smart decisions and enjoy all the delicious food like always.

Don't let Thanksgiving Day pass you by without making the most of it. Take the first step toward an active, healthy holiday by checking out our Military Fitness Center for an exciting workout idea to do on Thanksgiving morning. You deserve to feel your best as you celebrate with friends and family, so don't hesitate to embrace this opportunity for a fun and fulfilling start to your day.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, Military.com has you covered. Subscribe to Military.com to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues