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Indulging without going completely overboard? It might seem impossible for the biggest dinner of the year, but it turns out you can partake in all the Thanksgiving goodies without feeling comatose for the following 24 hours. To explain how, we enlisted the help of clinical nutritionist Kimberly Snyder (opens in new tab), the New York Times best-selling author of The Beauty Detox Solution: Eat Your Way to Radiant Skin (opens in new tab). Snyder boasts a celebrity clientele including Reese Witherspoon, Olivia Wilde, and Drew Barrymore, and she knows a thing or two about lightening up and keeping meals balanced—even during the most tempting time of year. Here, her tips for enjoying your Thanksgiving feast without overdoing it, from the surprising (don't drink too much water while you eat) to the surprisingly fair (no need to skip the pie).
1. Be prepared.
"Be cognizant of the options you and your guests will have. Thanksgiving is known as a day of over-indulgence, but try to incorporate some dishes that won't leave you feeling guilty post-meal. Make sure a salad is included, and lots of green options are great to have on hand, too. If you load up on fiber-filled salad veggies, you can enjoy other dishes without having monster-sized portions, as you will feel more full from all the fiber."
2. It's not just how much you eat, but the way you eat it.
"In general, one of the biggest causes of bloat is not only the heaviness and sheer volume of calories consumed during a Thanksgiving meal, but also a concept I refer to as 'beauty food pairing.' This essentially says that certain foods digest better with each other. At its core, this teaches that simpler meals digest better. Your body can break down, assimilate, and expel foods with fewer items than very complex meals, where many different foods may sit and mix together in your digestive tract. Thanksgiving is an example of a very heavy meal, where heavy, slower digesting proteins (such as turkey) are mixed with copious amounts of fat and oils, then starches are thrown into the mix (bread rolls, stuffing, yams, etc). On top of all that, desserts come down the pipeline with loads of refined sugar and more fat. So you can see that this and other complex meals can make for a digestive disaster, a 'traffic jam.'"
3. So start slow...
"Start your meal with a green salad. Chances are, there will be a salad option wherever you're eating, so try load up on the greens before you delve into the heavier options. The fiber in the greens will fill you up, and ideally help you to avoid over eating for the rest of the meal."
4. ...and maybe enlist some outside help.
"I also suggest starting with one (or a few!) digestive enzymes (opens in new tab), which can help your body break down and digest all that food more efficiently. We all need help sometimes! And for your digestive tract, some additional enzymes will be welcome support."
5. Steer clear of water during your meal. (Surprising, right?)
"Lots of people are prone to chugging water when they drink, because they think that will help them achieve that 'full' feeling faster. Actually, the reality is that when you're chugging liquids, you're diluting the digestive enzymes in your stomach that your body needs, especially when eating a large meal. So while you want to be sure to come into your Thanksgiving meal hydrated, drinking plenty of water beforehand (at least 30 minutes before the meal), you'll want to reduce liquids during the meal itself, then wait at least 45 minutes after the meal to drink significant quantities of liquids again. (Again, we're talking about significant amounts of liquid. Sipping during the meal is okay.)"
6. Keep in mind that turkey and stuffing tend to stuff your digestive tract—for days. (Favor the veggie menu items to lighten up a bit.)
"Few people realize that digestion is an incredibly energy-intensive process in the body, taking hours for the food to pass through your stomach and small intestine—and then even longer in your colon. Light foods, such as fruit and vegetables, are quicker. More dense foods, such as turkey and stuffing, can take 24-72 hours before they are fully digested and eliminated from your system. Thus, any sluggishness felt the next day is likely the result of your body still dealing with the food from the previous day."
7. Get moving the next morning—or if you're feeling ambitious, right after you've eaten.
"If you're not feeling well because of overeating (which I hope isn't the case!), take it slow. A walk outside in the fresh air always helps with sluggishness. I actually recommend walking after your Thanksgiving meal–even a 15 or a 20-minute walk taken shortly after finishing your meal can be beneficial for digestion. So throw on some fleece socks and head out, even for a few minutes!"
8. Be wary of any food sensitivities.
"Another factor making you feel the post-Thanksgiving food coma could be if you have difficulty digesting dairy (which many of us do, to varying levels) or a gluten sensitivity (which many have and do not realize), and you eat dairy-filled mashed potatoes, stuffing, or rolls."
9. No, you don't need to pass on the pie.
"I would just do my best to keep your portion moderate, because sweet/sugary items at the end of a heavy meal can set the stage for gas and bloating as well!"
10. Most importantly, don't stress.
"Some people get stressed or fearful about the meal and how it will affect them. This is not helpful—and, it can lead to further indigestion and bloating. I would recommend that you have a game plan going into the meal, and then let go, being grateful for the food, your family, and the experience. That will relax you and actually help ensure you feel much better right after the meal and the next day!"
Victoria Hoff is the associate editor at ELLE.com, covering everything from fashion to beauty to wellness. She first joined the team as the editorial assistant in 2013. When she isn't working, she spends her days in Brooklyn eating (vegan) tacos, yoga-ing, and curating her collections of healing crystals and mom jeans.
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