“Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I’ve developed a strategy for the holidays that revolves around one of my Top 10 items: Focus on quality, and avoid the empty calories.”

Ok, so you all know I’m heavily engaged in this lifestyle change program, and we’ve been over my 10-step program. As of the week before Thanksgiving, I was still on track, with my weight staying around 31-32 pounds below my starting weight, now some 100 days ago.

But, with the holiday season upon us, I know there are big challenges ahead. Very big. I thought I would share some of these challenges and my game plan to handle them so you all can keep me accountable, and so I can share inspiration with any of you who have trouble committing to health and wellness at this time of the year.

Let’s Talk About the Bertaut Family Thanksgiving.
I come from a family with a long tradition of over-the-top Thanksgiving feasts, my lovely bride of 30+ years comes from a similar (but different because she was raised in the North) approach to Thanksgiving week.

The goals seem to be three-fold:

  • Make as much and as wide a variety of foods as possible
  • Hit all the family traditional high points of food, hard
  • Invite over as many people as possible to enjoy it

There’s sort of a fourth, unofficial goal as well: To create enough food quantity as to ensure at least three or four days of huge leftover plates! And I have to admit, nothing tastes as good as a big plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, covered with gravy! Oh, this post is going to be hard to write…

First on the menu, the bird!

My wife has an excellent technique that turns a 20+ pound turkey every year into a juicy, spicy plate full of goodness. I’ve watched her do it every year, even helped, but I only tried to do it myself once, and it wasn’t up to her standards, believe me.

It’s something about stuffing the bird under the skin with spices and real butter, then rubbing other spices on the bird and doing the whole thing in the oven (we’ve never done fried or smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving), and it just comes out amazing! This year was no exception. I picked the bird up myself, and he came in around 23 pounds.

Also on the menu? A sliced Cure-81 ham, cubed bread stuffing made with real home-made chicken broth we freeze throughout the year, real mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole with pecans and brown sugar and butter (no marshmallow fluff), white shoepeg corn with butter, gallons of my wife’s special recipe brown gravy, fresh cranberry relish and canned cranberry sauce, plus a mountain of hot, buttery crescent rolls. On the experimental list for our family this year was cornbread dressing, which my wife never heard of until she came to my mom’s one year for Thanksgiving, and wanted to try making it herself.

“I made a point to eat my food slowly, taking and fully chewing one whole bite at a time. I also tried to spend more time visiting and talking with our guests than eating, since this meal was at my house and I was kind of the host of this whole affair.”

Did I mention dessert? Let’s see, homemade sweet potato pie, pecan pie with Steen’s cane syrup and a dessert turkey made out of butter pecan ice cream and coated with caramel, from our favorite ice cream parlor!

I know, I know, you’re all thinking I’m doomed. Doomed, I say! And this is before we got into the month-long buildup to the Christmas feast and all the party food, cookies and sugary beverages that go with it.

Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I’ve developed a strategy for the holidays that revolves around one of my Top 10 items: Focus on quality, and avoid the empty calories.

My Healthy Holidays Game Plan
So, imagine this: All of this food was laid out buffet-style on a very large table in my great room. The guests could serve themselves and wander over to the dining room to eat. That meant the only food on the table as we ate was what we put on our plates, plus some butter and a couple of baskets of crescent rolls.

I decided to approach Thanksgiving dinner like this:

First, I made sure to drink a big glass of water right before I served myself, so I wasn’t too hungry when I was filling my plate. Then, I covered as much of my plate as I could with carved white meat from the turkey, since that was lean protein. I let myself have little dollops of the carbs (mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing and green beans) so I could have tastes of my favorites without blowing my diet. I added gravy in tablespoon amounts instead of just pouring it on. And, I decided to forgo the corn/cranberry sauce/cornbread dressing so I could focus on my favorites as my splurge foods. I dropped a crescent roll in the middle of everything and went from there.

I made a point to eat my food slowly, taking and fully chewing one whole bite at a time. I also tried to spend more time visiting and talking with our guests than eating, since this meal was at my house and I was kind of the host of this whole affair.

“The good news is, if I can do it, YOU can do it!”

I decided I did want seconds, so I made a point to get a little more of the turkey with gravy and green beans when I went back, as those were the healthier items on my plate. I avoided the sugary/carby items after the first pass.

Once everyone was fed and happy, I gave my stomach a few hours off before dessert time, so that I wouldn’t wind up stuffed and miserable.

For dessert, I got one very thin – about an inch wide – slice of each type of pie, and tried a little bit of that ice cream turkey, just for the fun of it. But, I stuck to just half a cup of ice cream at most.

So, how did it go?

Tis The Season To Be Healthy!
Well, don’t hate me, but Spoiler Alert: I weighed LESS on the Monday morning after Thanksgiving weekend than I did on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving! And I didn’t starve myself, plus I got to enjoy some of my favorite holiday foods in the process.

This gives me confidence that my tactics will work in dealing with the holidays coming up, and I hope you find them useful, too. Besides watching what I put on my plate, I did a few other things to make sure I enjoyed my Thanksgiving without giving up on my commitment to live healthier.

First of all, I tried really hard to maintain my exercise regimen during the holiday weekend. I was successful for three out of four days. Considering how busy the holidays get, I’m proud of that.

Second, while I pretty much ate what I wanted during the actual Thanksgiving meal, I couldn’t help but notice that, compared to last year, I couldn’t eat as much. I made one really full plate with everything on it during my first pass at the buffet, but once that was down, I could barely squeeze in a crescent roll and butter afterward.

Last year at Thanksgiving, I had no trouble polishing off two big plates of food, and I remember hunting for a few things for plate number three. Very different this year, which made me realize my progress and feel more committed to embracing a healthier lifestyle. I did put away a few glasses of a good red wine while I was “helping” my wife cook everything, and that really put me in a good mood for the day! But, the actual Thanksgiving meal was the only time in the holiday weekend that I allowed carbs free reign on my plate.

Later on Thanksgiving day (we ate lunch around 2 p.m. with lots of guests and had a great time!), we broke out the pies and ice cream turkey, and I did have a little of both, like I had planned. But frankly, I stayed full the rest of Thursday, which is very different than prior years. I really didn’t get hungry again until around 11 a.m. on Friday, but this time, when we broke out the leftovers, I focused on the white meat turkey and the non-carby veggies. I ate one big plate on Friday, and then a piece of pumpkin pie with SPRAY ON WHIPPED CREAM (Oh God, I love that stuff!) for supper.

On Saturday, after a couple of days of really cool weather, my wife looked at me and said one word: “Soup!” And off we went to the grocery to buy veggies! My wife makes the BEST vegetable/beef soup I’ve ever had, and since I struggle to eat enough veggies, this is a great way to fix me up. Her soup is so thick with veggies that it’s much more like a stew, and she puts everything in there: broccoli slaw, carrots, green beans, corn, potatoes, cabbage and beef stock with just a couple of pounds of lean ground meat for flavor. I ate two bowls on Saturday and two more on Sunday, which was a perfect meal for cooler weather and very healthy. We have some left over, so I will be freezing some for later, in keeping with my Top 10 items to pack my own meals! Yay for me!

I allowed myself some more white meat turkey sandwiches and a piece of pumpkin pie (yes, with the spray whipped cream!) but otherwise stuck to soup. And, that’s pretty much how I handled Saturday and Sunday.

What I didn’t eat were plates full of the high-carb stuff, or extra desserts. I drank a lot of water over the weekend, which always helps, and kept moving the whole time. When the kids broke out the fire pit and started making graham cracker S’mores, I helped with the fixing but passed on those.

Overall, I was pretty nervous when I went to the scale on Monday morning, but coming in at two pounds lower than I was on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is nothing short of a miracle.

The good news is, if I can do it, YOU can do it!

So, Let’s Sum Up My Holiday Wellness Plan:

  • Keep to the exercise regiment.
  • Avoid the worst of the carbs (Quality over Empty Calories!)
  • Focus on protein and veggies.
  • Maintain portion control on the non-holiday leftovers days.

And of course, allow yourself a treat on some days (like pumpkin pie with SPRAY WHIPPED CREAM! Did you know your entire mouth full of Spray Whipped Cream is only 20 calories? I CHECKED!)

Stay with me! We’re all getting healthier, even during the holidays! Christmas is coming!