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How To Have A Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving

How To Have A Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving

how to have a happy healthy thanksgiving

With Halloween candy solidly under the extra notch in our belts, it’s officially the holiday season. Visions of perfect Norman Rockwell-esque turkey dinners, the tune of Auld Lang Syne, and The Nutcracker’s sugar plums dance in our heads. But for many, the joys of the holidays are also met with an unfortunate undercurrent of stress, unhealthy habits, relational confrontations, depression, overeating, overworking, and undersleeping. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So with Thanksgiving just around the corner, let’s kick off the holiday season the right way so we can mitigate the negatives and maximize the positives. And just a few tips for how to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving might be all that’s needed to put you in the right mindset to carry you through the holidays and end the year more positively.

Here are 7 tips for how to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving this year.

1. Don’t take on too much.

2. Get enough sleep.

3. Exercise.

4. Don’t self-sabotage; practice moderation.

5. Try some healthy Thanksgiving food swaps.

6. Participate and make memories.

7. Avoid divisive issues.

1. Don’t take on too much.

The first tip for how to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving this year is not to take on too much. This year especially it would be easy to quickly overwhelm yourself. Maybe you’re used to hosting fabulous holiday celebrations. But this year you’ve maybe also had to take on extra duties at work and home with your family due to changing circumstances, and just don’t have the time or energy you normally do. 

Be honest and realistic with yourself about what you can handle this year and know that it’s okay to adjust or simplify some traditions if needed, delegate out some responsibilities you usually take on yourself and ask for help. 

2. Get enough sleep.

Adequate sleep is one of the most important factors governing our health. It is therefore also an important contributing factor for how to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving.

Not getting enough sleep contributes to weight gain, a weakened immune system, memory loss, poorly affected reasoning skills, low libido, decreased heart health, premature aging in skin, and being more prone to diseases and accidents. None of that is worth losing sleep to stay up late so you can throw together a last-minute pie, perfect decorations, or make sure everything is spotless. 

If you prioritize your sleep, you will be more focused and alert to get the important things done in the time you have, keep your mood balanced to weather any stress curve-balls thrown your way, and ensure a happier, healthier Thanksgiving.

3. Exercise.

There’s no way around it. You’re about to consume what is ritualistically the biggest meal of the year. You’ve prepared your kitchen to cook it, but will you prepare your body to eat it? We’re not saying you need to be one of those people that runs a half marathon on Thanksgiving morning. Far from it. But exercising in some way is an important part of having a happy, healthy Thanksgiving. 

Exercise in general strengthens your heart and increases circulation, blood flow, and oxygen levels. It improves your mental health and mood, helps control your weight, boosts metabolism, and aids digestion. 

Since you know in advance the heavy workload your digestive system has ahead of it, give it some help! Just get up and move in some way for 30-45 minutes. Maybe bundle up to take in the crisp fall air on a brisk walk first thing in the morning. And take it a step further (pun intended!) by taking another walk sometime after that last bite of pie, too! Your entire digestive system (and waistline!) will thank you.

4. Don’t self-sabotage; practice moderation.

The holiday season has a way of getting us to self-sabotage ourselves into poor habits that can cripple our New Year’s resolutions and health goals for the new year before we even set them. Part of discovering how to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving is to stop self-sabotaging ourselves during the holidays each year. 

What starts out as one indulgent Thanksgiving meal often gives way to days of feasting on leftovers and a “devil may care” attitude to a previously healthier focus on diet. Each day of bad decisions makes it easier to keep making them the days after. And pretty soon you’re just settled in for the season with the mindset that you’ll get back on track after it’s all over. 

It only takes about 21 days to begin establishing a new habit. So if you “take a break” from healthy habits for the entire holiday season, what you are really doing is replacing them with bad ones. And once the new year rolls around, you now have an uphill battle of breaking the bad habits again and starting at square one. That struggle of initial effort to change can make people give up on their goals much sooner. So if you choose to indulge on Thanksgiving, keep the indulging to just the holiday itself, and resume your normal habits the very next day. Don’t let one day of feasting turn into a whole week of it. Start setting yourself up for success in the new year now!

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5. Try some healthy Thanksgiving food swaps.

Another strategy for how to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving is to try some healthy Thanksgiving food swaps.

The average American will eat a whopping 3,000-4,500 calories on Thanksgiving alone! That’s 2 day’s worth of food in one sitting! We’re not saying you need to give up your favorite festive foods for a sparse vegan version (unless your dietary requirements dictate that) or to give up roasting the bird to eat like one instead. But there are some strategies you can adopt and certain recipe swaps you can make to knock your calorie count down by a thousand or two.

Decide what are your must-have recipes and let those be. But if some recipes aren’t as critical, swap those out with some healthier alternatives. 

Here are some suggestions for healthy Thanksgiving food swaps:

  • Turkey: As tempting as it is to mix it up with the turkey and deep-fry it or stuff it full of carbs, opt instead for a classic roasted turkey stuffed with onions, garlic, and citrus.
  • Cranberry sauce: Using canned cranberry sauce is as easy as it is unhealthy. But making this from scratch is actually deceptively simple and has a huge impact on the healthiness of the dish.
  • Stuffing: Swap the box or bag full of processed non-foods for a homemade version. This gives you control of the ingredients so you can ensure whole grains and real foods that easily reduce the calorie count and unhealthy factor of the dish.
  • Green bean casserole: This dish involves a healthy veggie mixed with so many processed ingredients turned into a gut bomb that the nutrition is no longer recognizable. Swap this side with simple, freshly steamed and dressed green beans instead, or with roasted brussels sprouts to change up the green factor.
  • Sweet potato casserole: Similar to its green bean counterpart, sweet potato casserole takes a nutrient-dense sweet potato and loads it with sugar and marshmallows until it does more harm than good. Sweet potatoes have so much flavor on their own, so opt instead for some simple roasted and dressed sweet potatoes.
  • Pecan pie: It’s hard enough to choose which pie to have when you have options, so go ahead and stay away from the pecan pie. Pecan pie is almost nothing but various forms of sugar piled together. Choose instead a low ingredient homemade apple or pumpkin pie. Or, even better, some spiced baked apples or pears.

Fully enjoy this meal and celebration of abundance that only comes around once a year. But use moderation, and avoid overeating. Pay attention to your portion sizes, re-think multiple helpings, and practice eating slowly and savoring each dish instead of scarfing it all down. You’ll be thankful you did later. 

6. Participate and make memories.

This year has kept us cooped up and isolated for so long. So if you choose to safely gather with your family and friends this season, make the most of it! Don’t be one of those who just sit around watching football or other television. You’ve done enough of that already. One of the most significant ways to have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving is to participate! Join in and help out with the cooking. Maybe tackle a new recipe or two. Plan some safe outdoor activities and board games or crafts for indoors. Enjoy the time together with your family and friends, and make some good memories. 

7. Avoid divisive issues.

While it might be tempting to talk about what’s going on in the news or bring up past grievances, use good judgment for whether or not you should. If your family thrives on and is stimulated by healthy debate and discussion, go for it! But if, like many families, divisive issues only repeatedly spark arguments or leave some members feeling isolated, maybe find some other things to talk about this year. Take a much-needed reprieve from the weight of the heavy issues surrounding us, and that will help you have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving.


This has arguably been one of the most collectively stressful years in recent history. It would be easy for the Thanksgiving Day Parade this year to be one of negative complaints around the table instead of the standardly cheerful floats and flowers down the streets of NYC. So let’s not dwell on all of the bleakness that has been 2020 and carry that into our holidays. And what better way to ensure that than starting off the season with Thanksgiving, a holiday that magnifies gratitude and reminds us that the key to being content and happy in any circumstance is thankfulness. 

May you have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving.

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