Thanksgiving can be healthful and fun

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Most of us are still dealing with Halloween candy, and now Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It's enough to take even the most-disciplined, die-hard exerciser off track.

In America, Thanksgiving dinner goes hand-in-hand with an all-out gorge until you're about to burst. A retreat to the couch follows because you're just too stuffed to move. It doesn't have to be this way — everyone always regrets it later. Remember last year's moans and groans? "Ugh, I shouldn't have eaten the second helping of stuffing and sweet potatoes!"

This year, I'm going to help you be more proactive:

It's estimated that the average American can consume 5,000-plus calories on Thanksgiving Day. Most people enjoy a bigger-than-usual breakfast, Thanksgiving meal — and we can't forget the leftovers later in the evening. Now if you were an Olympic athlete, this wouldn't be too much of a problem. But since the only activity most people do on Thanksgiving is the walk from the kitchen to the TV, Thanksgiving can wreak havoc on your health.

Plan a healthy Thanksgiving meal: If you're in charge of dinner or helping to plan, keep these tips in mind:

• Schedule the meal earlier in the day. Thanksgiving Dinner between 2 and 5 p.m. will allow some time for the body to digest the heavy meal before you hit the sack. Or do Thanksgiving the European way — schedule Thanksgiving as an all-day celebration and serve small dishes every hour or so. This seems so much healthier and civilized than mom busting her butt all day long preparing a meal that is consumed ravenously in five minutes. Spread the calories out throughout the day, and you'll be less likely to feel awful.

• Minimize the carb overload. Instead of preparing sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing and rolls, choose only one or two of these dishes. It will save a ton of calories and you'll feel less "stuffed!" (pun intended!)

• While guests are arriving, have a vegetable platter available for them to munch on.

• Serve a delicious soup as the appetizer.

• Serve a beautiful salad.

• Serve two or three different types of vegetables at the table.

• Use skim or semi-skim milk for all your recipes.

• Serve water with dinner.

Yes, you can have dessert: But before dessert is served, insist everyone go for a beautiful walk around the neighborhood. Or plan some fun activities while you allow your body to process the meal. For example, plan a fun game of charades, break out the Wii, perhaps a quick game of basketball, flag football or tag — or maybe pull out the holiday decorations and have the family help get your house looking festive. Or maybe earn some brownie points with mom, grandma or Aunt Jane by raking some leaves. Bottom line, move your body, and you'll feel a lot better! My theory is dessert is OK, but you've got to earn it!

Get your workout in: Head to the gym for a quick workout or take a run, walk or bike ride around the neighborhood. If you've got family visiting, do it first thing in the morning before people wake up. A workout will actually make you feel better and help to suppress your appetite so you're less likely to overeat.

You can still enjoy a wonderful dinner and atmosphere without having everyone feeling bloated and horrible for the rest of the evening and suffering a Thanksgiving hangover the next day.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at www.nwPersonalTraining.com or www.ShapeupwithSherri.com.