Staying on Track This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has historically filled many clients with dread. Somehow folks get the idea that one day of a little extra food and a few drinks will undo everything they have worked so hard for in the gym.

That isn’t true. Just like working out one day won’t get you in shape; one day of extra calories won’t destroy your fitness.

However, that doesn’t make navigating the holiday a breeze. For those of us who have contentious gatherings to look forward to, work on the next morning, or to outrun other bargain shoppers on Friday: here are 3 key factors to taking Thanksgiving in stride. These are the same pillars I built my health coaching program on and they are extremely effective. Each pillar covers a different aspect of your wellbeing. State management, nutrition, and physical activity will allow you to reach Friday morning ready to perform your best.


When we are considering large holiday events, state management mainly refers to social stressors. 

I’m very lucky. Whether we are with my side of the family or my wife’s for Thanksgiving, we have a blast. Everyone is friendly, conversation flows easily, and we are pretty well aligned on hot-button issues.

In the past, it hasn’t always been that way. Holidays with previous girlfriends, at friends houses, and even with my own extended family have been anywhere from anxiety inducing to downright uncomfortable. Holiday conversation can feel like a minefield. When that’s the case, how do we manage the stress of potentially awkward conversation?

By setting intentions ahead of time.

You have to have a plan for what conversations you will entertain, how adamantly you will defend your position, how you will respectfully acknowledge a differing opinion, and how you can change the subject to less incendiary topics. Decide when you would walk away from particularly confrontational conversations. 

You can’t plan for every single specific conversation, but setting the intention of being respectful of others and not trying to change minds will get you a long way. Confrontations happen (especially after a few drinks), so be prepared to handle them calmly.


You can burn off a little pre-dinner anxiety by getting a workout earlier in the day. Not only will you feel great afterward, but exercise will stoke your metabolism, help your lounging mobility, and start protein synthesis so you can put all that turkey to good use.

If you’re already on a program, do your scheduled workout for the day. If it’s a rest day, do some light cardio. Anything to get your blood pumping.

If you aren’t currently on a program, for a food heavy holiday like Thanksgiving I recommend a total body workout built from compound movements. 

A simple workout built into supersets* (to save some time) would look like this:

A1 Squat                 4 x 10

A2 Push Up               x 12

B1 Single Arm Row                            3 x 12 each

B2 Crunch w/ 5sec pause per rep      x 12

C1 Single Leg Hip Thrust      3 x 15 each

C2 Side Plank                            x 25 second each

* perform in pairs resting only after the second exercise

This can be done at home or at the gym. Feel free to substitute loaded variations of some of these movement. Ex: instead of a push up you can do a bench press variation.


Here’s the big one. Most folks get pretty worked up, convince themselves they don’t know how to handle it, and just give up on sticking to their eating plan. The fact is, most Thanksgiving for is decently healthy. 

You can enjoy everything and stay on track. Use your hand as a measurement device to control your portions:

For women

1 palm sized serving of turkey

1 fist sized serving of veggies

1 cupped hand sized serving of mashed potatoes (or complex carb of your choice)

1 thumb sized serving of gravy (or another fat)

For men

Double the servings above

Now, here is the important part. It’s Thanksgiving. The food is probably really good. Go ahead and pick your favorite thing and have one more serving. Top it off with one serving of dessert.

You just ate in a calorie surplus. Once. For one meal. You’ll be fine. 


Go down the prep list:

– Set intentions to manage social stress

– Get a workout to stoke your metabolism

– Use your hand to measure your dinner

Once you’ve got these three simple things covered there’s nothing to worry about. You can sit back, relax, and get ready to go nuts Black Friday shopping.