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Grinding Through Thanksgiving

Strategies for surviving the overloaded holiday table.


There’s no place like home for the holidays.

These words ring true, but they can be problematic if you are heading to a family event during the Thanksgiving season with a lot of food and a lot of temptations. In addition to the vast array of food and drinking, there’s a good chance that your local box will be closed for part of this time or that you’ll be visiting a place where there is not an opportunity to get to a WOD.

So, what do you do? Do you just pack it in, put on your holiday “eating pants” and just dig in? Do you try to eat a couple of veggies, some nice organic turkey and then stare longingly as everyone else hammers down pumpkin pie and other desserts?

There can be a balance. You don’t have to just chalk this time up to a total nutritional loss.

I was able to talk over some tips and strategies with Jenni Gardner, a fitness nutrition specialist with the International Sports Science Association, for grinding out an eating “game plan” before you sit down to the Thanksgiving Day table.

Its holiday time and people are heading to family gatherings with large assortments of foods. What are some tips for those of us who are trying to keep our diets clean during this time?

Make sure you eat sensibly in the days leading up to and before the big family dinner. On Thanksgiving Day, don’t fast the entire day just so you can gorge yourself on one huge meal. You will be less apt to cruise and graze on appetizers during the social hour and more likely to push away from the table before you become uncomfortable.

Bring a dish that you can eat. Sometimes, families don’t always remember that “Johnny doesn’t do bread anymore” or perhaps don’t even know where to begin in providing healthy alternatives especially for you. Offer to bring a side dish or appetizer that you know is compatible with your nutrition philosophy. At the very least, you’ll be able to eat something.

When filling your plate at the Thanksgiving table, what would be your strategy?

Believe me, I’ve overdone food lots of times, and for me, it doesn’t lead to happiness. Protein and fat first, veggies next. Fat and protein turn on production of the hormones for satiety — carbohydrates don’t. In fact, the higher the sugar content of a food, the more we tend to eat. Make the animal protein and fat the focus, fill in the edges with colorful carbs.

Skip the bread and gravy. Traditionally made, these “foods” are high in processed carbs, and wheat is a known gut irritant. Along with the brain fog, bloating, headaches and possible digestive issues it causes, it’s just not worth space on my plate, especially when there is butter available.

Taste a little of your favorites. Just don’t make the not-so-clean stuff your main focus. Listen to your body and push away when you start to feel full. Your body will thank you for not mistreating it. If you have been eating correctly before the holidays, you shouldn’t be ravenously hungry nor mentally deprived. Stopping before you cross the line shouldn’t be a problem.

What would that be the food you’d choose if you were going to indulge in some non-Paleo holiday foods?

If we are talking about me, I go for the dessert, (something with some) sugar. If you’re not metabolically broken, you’re happy with your body composition, and your metabolism is running smoothly, a little sugar once in a while isn’t going to throw you off the rails and might be a good thing mentally and metabolically. Use it as a topper, at the end of the evening. Understand you will get an insulin response and make it work for you rather than against you.

What are some Thanksgiving dishes that Paleo-based dieters can really sink their teeth into during Thanksgiving (preferably ones that taste good and other non-Paleo folks might like as well)?

Here are a few of my favorites:

* Roast beef au jus with horseradish dipping sauce
* Cauliflower au gratin with fresh chives
* Roasted asparagus with balsamic vinegar
* Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and thyme
* Pumpkin pie a la mode!!

These are great tips and plans for getting through the Thanksgiving season without scrapping your diet and training while still being able to enjoy yourself around friends and family. There are plenty of Paleo-friendly websites loaded with quality recipes to help you get through the holiday with as few nutritional setbacks as possible.

Part of our job as members of the community of CrossFit is to promote the sport. There’s a balance between talking to others about why you look so great (because of training and diet) and being the “weirdo” when you load your plate. I think in this case you can have your cake (or pie) and eat it too — just do it sensibly.

What are your holiday favorite foods for Thanksgiving that you just go ahead and eat even though they might not be the best nutritional choices? Share them with me at jtolgrinder @

Enjoy a safe and happy holiday, give thanks, and stay on the grind.

— Jamie Toland (JTol)