Plan for a healthier Thanksgiving

But if you are hungry for a healthier, happier, more fitness-friendly way to celebrate the holiday so that by the end of the meal, you feel blessed and grateful, not bloated and bursting, I have some ideas to share.

Identify your stressors. How do you know whether Thanksgiving is a stressful time for you? Listen to your body, especially to your gut, that seat of great wisdom.

If thinking about Turkey Day makes you feel tense and anxious instead of enthusiastic and excited, your body is telling you the truth: Something is wrong. Sit calmly and meditate on where the stress is coming from. Write it down and keep it on your dresser. Then give yourself permission to make a few changes.

Take action. Once you’ve identified the stressors, be brave enough to take action. You might begin with your guest list. If you can eliminate toxic people from the table, do so. If you’re stuck with guests who are mean, selfish and out to get you, see Thanksgiving as an opportunity to practice acceptance, kindness and compassion.

Be thankful you are evolved enough to handle all kinds of pathology. If necessary, use place cards to keep your least favorite folks as far away as possible.

Lower your expectations. In fact, don’t even have any expectations. Do your best and learn to laugh through the blunders and blowups.

One of the most common mistakes people make in the run-up to Thanksgiving is having high expectations of carrying off The Perfect Amazing Dinner, complete with homemade everything, carefully constructed candle-and-cranberry centerpieces and a parade of magnificent desserts. Forget it. Only Free Martha can do that, and only with a staff of 15.

So, this Thanksgiving, plan ahead, but plan for success. Don’t overdo your menu. Less will be more if you, the cook, are relaxed and focused on the freshness and quality of the food, not the quantity.

Lighten your load further by asking friends or family to bring side dishes, dessert, even centerpieces. Remember: Hosting Thanksgiving is not a competitive sport.

Be a conscious cook. It’s only natural to want to build your holiday dinner around a chemical-free organic turkey raised to run free and play Mozart. More and more Americans will be enjoying a turkey-free Thanksgiving this year, and if that suits you, go for it.

If that would cause chaos and confusion among the carnivores in your house, perhaps next year will bring more enlightened attitudes. Prepare vegetable and whole-grain side dishes that don’t depend on high-fat, heavy cream sauces for flavor. Build your dessert around fresh fruit.

Definitely avoid processed foods with long lists of chemical ingredients. Seek out and be thankful for local produce.

Be a conscious eater. Your goal is to get through the meal without overeating or overdrinking. Decide on a self-reminder - a pinch of your cheek, a tug on your ear - to keep you focused. If possible, eat off a smaller plate.

Take a healthy but modest portion of turkey - the size of your palm - and fill out the plate with veggies and low-fat sides. Eat and chew slowly, and you’ll feel fuller, faster. If you can’t resist seconds, avoid heaping portions.

Have three bites of any dessert you want, and then remove it from sight. Enjoy everything you eat, and stop eating before you’re full.

Exercise. This is the secret weapon, for hosts and guests. In the run-up to Thanksgiving, make sure you are getting plenty of exercise, at least 30 minutes a day. It will ease the stress, burn calories and boost your resolve to make this Thanksgiving the best one ever.

Indeed, why not start a new Thanksgiving tradition in 2006? After the meal, or before, get your whole crowd together and take a 15-minute walk, even if it’s just around the block. A little exercise goes a long way toward easing digestion, and from that place of comfort, gratitude and love can flow.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” So said Meister Eckhardt.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. E-mail her your questions at