10 Tips For An Awesome Thanksgiving

I’m not gonna lie: I’m pretty excited about Cranberry Waldorf Salad and Grain-Free Apple Cake on Thursday. But amidst all the food anticipation, I’m also enormously grateful for all of you.

Thank you very much for cooking my recipes and reading my words.

That’s truly the finest gift you can give to a writer, and I’m so thankful that you make a little time for me in your busy lives.

I love to imagine all the different arrangements of people and temperaments around Thanksgiving tables in houses across the United States. Relatives with radically opposing points of view. Huge families with a kids’ table. Candlelit dinners for two. Friends gathered to watch football. Whatever your plans, you might be feeling the beginnings of holiday excitement and its negative-Nelly cousin: stress.

Here are some tips to help all of us make this holiday the best it can be. (And if you’re still pulling together your menu, here are 25 Paleo & Whole30 Thanksgiving Recipes, plus bonus Gingerbread-Spiced Pecans.)

10 Tips For An Awesome Thanksgiving

1. Workout.

In the past, my preference on Thanksgiving morning was definitely to lie on the couch in my PJs and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (The Rockettes! Santa!) But I know from experience that the rest of the day feels so much better when I move around. This year, we’re starting the day with a walk-run around Vyšehrad before the rest of the day’s festivities. I whole-heartedly encourage you to get some movement on Thanksgiving. Yoga is really nice, perhaps a run around your neighborhood—or if you want to hit it a little harder to work out some holiday feels, you might try one of these tasty workouts: Turkey Tabata or Feast Gone Bad.

2. Eat breakfast… and maybe lunch.

Knowing that a feast is coming, you might be tempted to skip other meals during the day to compensate for the upcoming calorie-ocalypse. That’s not the greatest idea, really. Eat a balanced breakfast with solid protein, quality carbs, and some healthy fats so you’re not famished and/or cranky heading into Thanksgiving dinner. (And if you’re eating late, you might need a lunch-time snack in there, too.) I have to admit, sometimes I’m tempted to make some kind of pumpkin-nut-dried fruit paleo-ized treat for breakfast — ‘CAUSE IT’S A HOLIDAY, AND I GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO EAT WHATEVER I WANT — but then I ultimately decide to save my treats for our feast. We usually start the day with our “regular breakfast.” You do what you like; I’m just recommending that you don’t pick Thanksgiving to start experimenting with fasting.

3. Drink water.

This probably seems like “no duh,” but it’s worth a reminder. Three things happen on holidays that can cause discomfort and bloating… ew, right?! (1) You might be eating more than usual; (2) you might be eating foods you don’t eat very often; (3) when you do (1) and (2), you’re most likely ingesting more salt than usual, too. You will feel ever-so-much better if you drink plenty of water to help move everything through your system — and if you’re enjoying adult beverages, think about alternating 1 or 2 glasses of water with each cocktail.

4. Breathe deeply.

The holidays can be fun and exciting and and magical and overwhelming and awesome and… whew! Reconnecting with friends and family can be a beautiful thing — and it can also be a stressful thing. Whether you’re having a lovely time, or you feel like you’re about to use the carving knife to stab Aunt Edna, a 3-minute breathing break is a kickass way to re-establish your equilibrium. Just find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for 3 minutes. This may mean hiding in a closet, taking over the bathroom, escaping to the garage, or disappearing to the car in the driveway. Whatever it takes! Then breathe… you can simply do long, slow breaths or try a pattern. My two favorites? Inhale through the nose in 4 short sniffs (sniff – sniff – sniff – sniff) then exhale in a long, slow breath for 4 seconds; repeat. Or do breath of fire with eyes closed; this is a great instructional video. Whichever you choose, just 3 minutes of conscious breathing can reduce your stress and energize you at the same time. And that just might keep you from committing holiday homicide.

5. Savor every bite.

Sticking with your Whole30? Totally going off-road and enjoying your favorite non-paleo treats? Eating mostly paleo but choosing a few special nibbles? Whatever your eating strategy is for Thanksgiving, slow down, savor every bite, and engage all of your senses. The holidays are my favorite time to enjoy some once-in-a-while indulgences, but it’s damn stupid to ruin the experience by (a) eating crappy food out of habit or (b) following something delicious with self-recrimination. Eat only the things you love, eat only the things that taste great to you, and enjoy the aroma and taste of every bite.

6. Take a walk.

Yeah, yeah, I know… you might have already worked out earlier in the day. But I wholeheartedly encourage you to take a short stroll after your dinner. In fact, I think you should enlist the whole family to take a tromp through your neighborhood together. Breathe some fresh air, spend time together in the post-meal glow, and give your belly a break by moving around.

7. Disconnect.

We blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, Instagramming maniacs spend plenty of time online most of the other days of the year. Unless you’re sending a personal message to someone special who’s far away, I challenge you to really disconnect on Thanksgiving. No matter how delicious your food looks, we will all survive without seeing the photo until Friday. I promise! We’ll all be here, ready to interact with you in our digital playground when you get back online; feel free to leave us hanging on Thursday.

8. Call a faraway friend or family member.

If you’re anything like me, you rarely use your phone to actually speak to the people you love. But there’s something special about hearing the sound of our dear ones’ voices, so why not give your faraway friends or family a ring? Even if it’s just to sing a silly Thanksgiving song together for a few minutes. (I sing “The Turkey Sat on the Backyard Fence” many times during Thanksgiving week. On the phone. In the shower. In the kitchen. In the car. Also: Five Fat Turkeys.) I will most definitely be Skyping with my family so we can dish about everything we’re eating.

9. Be present.

Getting together with family and old friends can sometimes bring up past hurts, slights, and arguments. Reminiscing about good times is lovely; dwelling on the past can be very detrimental. Alternately, fretting about the future (an upcoming Whole30, your “punishment” workout at the gym on Friday) or bargaining with yourself about future behavior (“I’ll eat pumpkin pie now but tomorrow, I’ll eat perfect paleo.”) is a sure way to create stress and ruin your day. So be present. Love your family right now. Savor the food you’re eating right now. Pay attention to the little details that make this moment the only moment. Suddenly, old yucky stuff and future worries disappear… and right now is really great.

10. Hug indiscriminately.

There are about a bajillion details that can go wrong on a holiday (or any day). The turkey is still frozen. The dog ate the pumpkin pie. Someone didn’t get the memo about paleo and brought homemade corn bread to the potluck. Aunt Ann forgot she shouldn’t seat Uncle Ed and Uncle Bob next to each other. Grandma got drunk. Grandpa won’t get drunk. Whatever. In the midst of the craziness you have two choices: get frustrated/angry or lean into the chaos and hug everyone. Seriously. Someone’s being an ass? Disarm them with a hug. Someone’s being awesome? Reward them with a hug. A big hug smooths over lots of ruffled feathers, and it feels good every time.

And if all else fails, do something really, really, really silly…

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

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  • Lisa says:

    Hey Mel,
    Happy Thanksgiving! I am Canadian so I am just going along with it, our Thanksgiving was in October and was spectacular!
    I am so grateful for your blog and emails (and recipes). I recently started eating meat after a 30+ year hiatus ( mid teens to mid forties…) and your site has been helpful to say the least. Still don’t LIKE meat but getting used to cooking/eating it day by day.
    I love your posts about Prague. My husband and I travelled to Prague 10 years ago and it was my favourite city ever! We toured the country and stopped at Karlovy Vary and Cesky Krumlov. I loved planning the trip, every detail – and loved being there! I dream of Prague and so your updates always make me smile :). Lastly I brought home a bottle of Becherovka when we were there and I continue to nurse it – 10 years later – but then we just found it locally to buy and so that was good news! Anyway love your Czech updates, thanks so much!

    • Thank you for this lovely note!

      WOW! How does it feel to be a carnivore again?! Have you noticed a difference in your sleep, skin, energy, mood, etc? I’m very curious. I hope you enjoy eating the meat soon 🙂

      We haven’t visited Karlovy Vary yet, but we adore Cesky Krumlov. There’s a group here called Discovering Prague that’s like a tour group for expats, and we’re doing trips with them to new places. It’s really nice to have someone in the know arrange the transport and itinerary. I think we’re going on a snowshoeing overnight in January. SNOW! MOUNTAINS! CHALET! I’m really looking forward to it.

      I can’t believe you made your Becherovka last so long! It’s pretty fun being in a place where we can buy it in every corner store 🙂