Be thankful: Don’t fast before the feast!

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Close your eyes…take a deep whiff…are your olfactory senses already perceiving a touch of nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon in the air?  Yes, it is a week before the Thanksgiving celebration, and in many households, culinary preparations are well underway.

Let’s be honest: despite the fact that the Pilgrims and Indians did not partake of sweet potato casserole laden with butter and melted marshmallows on top, theirs was a true feast, much as we will experience when we gather around the table with friends and family.  Regardless of what was served back then, or what we are anticipating will be enjoyed next week, the word Feast is perfectly appropriate.

At this time of year, thoughts are often drawn to holiday events and parties, all of which will be wonderful and usually celebrated with the offering of calorie-dense treats.  We try to be mindful, but it isn’t always easy to resist family recipes that make an appearance just once a year.  Many individuals operate under the premise that by starving themselves all day long, they may gorge at the party or the feast and safely consume a day’s worth of calories in one sitting.  Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. 

We always enjoy a roaring fire during the chilly weather.  It pairs nicely with football games and snowfall!  All year long, my husband stacks wood in the backyard, ready to keep the fireplace burning all afternoon and into the evening. Imagine if he tried to get the blaze going with nothing but a few ashes, only to dump pounds of logs in the hearth several hours later! Would the fire be burning effectively?  The answer is no, and it might be difficult to even get embers to ignite.

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This is essentially how our metabolism functions.  By feeding it small amounts of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day, our bodies utilize this fuel to keep all of our biological and mechanical functions performing at peak levels.  In other words, with no fuel going in, there will not be an uptick of the metabolism.  This is not a desirable place to be, especially when one is planning to consume large amounts of not-so-nutrient-dense foods later in the day. 

How, then, can we survive the Thanksgiving holiday and all the December celebrations to follow? We must strike a balance.  This balance takes into account calories consumed as well as calories burned through metabolic processes and exercise.  We can win at this game!  If the day is started with a small protein-rich breakfast, we kick-start the fires early, priming them for the metabolic increase we wish to create.  Mid-morning is a great time to get in some extra exercise.  Many neighborhoods hold ‘Turkey Trot” 5K runs the morning of Thanksgiving, for this very reason.  Most fitness facilities remain open until at least 3:00 pm.  If neither of these options calls to you, think about taking the dog for an extra-long walk and enjoying the crisp autumn air and colorful leaves.  Plan a family hike…just do not leave the house with the oven on!!!  

When lunchtime rolls around, focus once again on lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables in moderate portion sizes. By now, it is time for some serious football watching!  Fortunately, halftime hits at a perfect interval, when your family and friends can get off of the couch and toss around your own football in the backyard.  Also, the dog would surely be up for another brisk long walk right about now.  

Are you sensing a pattern to the balance plan? Small amounts of healthy food (fuel) delivered to the body every few hours, coupled with bursts of exercise, keep our metabolic engine roaring like the fireplace.  Depending on what was consumed and the nature of the exercises, we may have even established a deficit in our favor without fasting.  Now we can enjoy the Thanksgiving feast in moderation, because while we may be hungry for the November delicacies, we are not so famished as to overindulge and be regretful later.

Whether you are a host or a guest this year, a bit of advance planning can help you triumph over the holiday season! Whether it is a healthy snack or a fitness opportunity, we are thankful for the abundance in our lives!