A Short Guide to Thanksgiving Success


A Short Guide to Thanksgiving Success

By: Lee Sondeno | November 16, 2017

Ah Thanksgiving. Nothing throughout the year can ruin your diet more than this single day. What used to be a celebration for me to see how much I could possibly eat before passing out (only to eat some more a few hours later) has taken on a different definition in our household lately. Now we anticipate the day as a time to try out as many new Paleo-inspired dishes that we can from various cookbooks we've collected throughout the year. I seriously cannot wait. It is one of the best excuses to indulge a little and cook/grill/bake/scheme (you'll see why in a moment) a little more than you normally would. That being said, give yourself permission to get a little wild. Just remember these important tips to keep things as Primally-aligned as possible:

1. Eat like our (American) ancestors ate. 

It's tough to not give a short history lesson on the origins of Thanksgiving, and being that it was my favorite literary time periods to study, I will indulge myself a little: 

This may come as a shock, but there was no Stove Top stuffing at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. And no pie, no potatoes*. What we do know is that the recorded Thanksgiving story is one of absolute survival from the harshest of conditions, where a tribe of people came together to celebrate with food - the "fruits of our labors"- and the goodness of God for bringing them through the trials and hardships of the New England coast that first year. Of the 102 passengers who made the journey on the Mayflower, many  had perished (from first landing in December of 1620 - Autumn of 1621), and the surviving 53 were met with 3 days of feasting with the help of the Wampanoa. What did they feast on, you ask? All sorts of meat, fish, foul (yes, including wild turkey), fruits and nuts, (is this starting to sound familiar?) and corn. Apparently lots of corn. A "better grain cannot be than the Indian corn," as it is described.* The evolution of Thanksgiving has gone through quite the transformation to the celebratory meal that it is today. But the fact remains, it is a celebration of plenty - something that didn't come easily for our ancestors without hard work and cooperation. 

The prescription is simple: eat like our American ancestors ate. Talk about perfect Primal conditions! Emphasize the seasonal vegetables, the traditional proteins, and the fruits and nuts of the autumn harvest. A word on corn: no, I'm not saying GMO corn of today is acceptable or smart, but if you can find Native corn that hasn't been adulterated by Monsanto, by all means, use this day to indulge a little. At some point in the near future I will write about my thoughts on foods and grains like corn, processing of them before eating (like in Nixtamalization or soaking to rid them of their toxins) and the traditional foods of my beloved Southwest and how they fit into a Paleo template. So stay tuned! Bottom line, always shoot for the most nutrient-dense foods.

2. What 80/20 Rule?

As valuable as it is to indulge a little, and no one including me is saying to never eat the sweet things of this modern world again, I am also aware through trial and error with my clients that sometimes when given the "eat Paleo only 80% of the time," anything and everything becomes an excuse to exercise the other 20 percent. First it's major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, 4th of July. Then it moves on to everybody's birthday party to a more "I deserve this I had a rough day," scenario. 

I've written about taking the good days with the bad, and hopefully over time there is an average of more good, but I'm quickly finding out that doesn't work for a lot of people. This isn't just about having to make compromises in a modern world where we can't necessarily eat well 100% of the time. It is just too easy for some of you (us!) to fall pray to clever marketing tactics and foods our brains have a hard time refusing. We are all genetically wired to eat,  which means when we find something taste better than it naturally should, we eat a lot of it in preparation of the period of famine we know is coming for us and our family as we migrate to a different land...wait a second. What famine? Last time I checked, the pantry that was full last night is still full this morning, and if not we restock it whenever we want. 

See the problem? It's too easy for the primitive side of our brains (the one saving you from imminent doom) to be in charge of our decisions, instead of the logical side asking why you've bulked up for famine over the past (insert number of years here). Why sacrifice the work you've done so far? Ask yourself it it is really worth it. I'd bet that not only could I find an alternative to the junk that makes you feel better after eating it, but most of the time it will taste better, too - satisfying the true nutritional requirements your body is craving. It's amazing what happens to your body when you start feeding it REAL food. You'll never want to go back, making it that much easier to enjoy something not-so-Paleo occasionally with little guilt. Who wants to feel sick and tired all the time?

3. Be a Modern-Day Forager.

It's easier than you think. Picture walking in to your favorite supermarket, armed with a spear and loincloth, proclaiming to everyone who will listen that this is how to be a modern-day hunter-gatherer. Or better yet, dress as a pilgrim with a musket in hand. Those, I'm afraid, are not always possible. And please, don't try. 

What is possible is being strategic about what you shop for. To buy pasture-raised, organic, grass-fed, no hormones added, local, seasonal ingredients that you take home and prepare yourself is the way of the modern-day forager. Nothing packaged, processed, or out of a box. Can you do it? Yes. Will you sometimes fail? Just like our ancestors, yes. So you keep moving - to the next store, the next farmer's market, the next web-address that has what you're looking for. You will have to cut your way through the thick jungles (junk food) and track footprints through the dry desert every once in a while, but as your genes know, it's worth it. If you eat according to the season, it makes it that much easier. Remember the First Thanksgiving - seasonal vegetables, traditional proteins, fruits and nuts.

 4. Play.

One of the more interesting accounts of those fateful days in 1621 is from Edwin Winslow, describing that, "for three days we entertained and feasted." The kind of entertainment we are talking about did not (shocker) involve a TV.  Most of the time, entertainment back then was physical - in the form of games, competitions, song and dance. 

The takeaway is simple: Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for us to connect with friends and family in a remarkably different way than is the normal tradition in this country. Instead of just watching football, go outside and play it.  Use the time off to do something different, something healthy, and something truly rewarding - conjure up your inner child and get out there and play a little. 

5. Respond Well.

It's inevitable: your family or friends will make a comment (or two) about your food choices, how you've lost some weight, or how eating meat is socially irresponsible. Or you may hear my favorite, "Oh yeah, that caveman diet." Insert face-palm here. 

When confronted (or badgered), simply turn the tables by asking simple questions about how they feel every day - do they have boundless energy throughout the day, whether they eat or not? Do they feel guilt after eating certain types of foods? What if it were possible to get to 80% of your body composition goals without even thinking about exercise? Yes, these things are all possible, and it doesn't take that much work to get there. It's about re-framing the way we think about the food we eat. 

Instead of being on the defense about your 'different' choices, be a walking billboard of success. But most importantly, be there to help and answer questions about your ancestral diet and lifestyle. And if you're new to Primal and to this website, use this as a starting point to something new for you. To take your health back to the start, whether that's 400 years ago to Plymouth or even way back. Your genes will thank you, and you will find yourself with enough of a skip in your step to enjoy a game or two of touch football in the outdoors. 

This Thanksgiving, let's eat like our (American) ancestors ate, play like they played, and help lead the change to better health this country so desperately needs. What are some simple changes and new traditions you're willing to start on your way to a healthier lifestyle? If not now, when? I'd love to hear about it. Be sure to follow me on Instagram as my family and I post about what we've got cooking this holiday season, and stop by my Pinterest boards for some healthy food ideas to get you going!

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One thought on “A Short Guide to Thanksgiving Success

  1. Makes me not regret getting that organic free range turkey!! Great article!

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