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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
23 Nov

Thanksgiving Dinner: Vote for Your Plan of Attack

turkeyIt’s time for the annual procession of all things carb: potatoes, rolls, cranberry molds, all manner of desserts. Thanksgiving, however, needn’t be a salivating stare down with the spuds. The subject du jour: how you plan to handle the holiday. Primal types seem to fall into two camps when it comes to these occasions. Some say every day is a Primal day, and they go about preparing their Thanksgiving feast the way they do every other meal. If they’re visiting for the holiday, they selectively forage and might even bring a Primal dish of their own (to share or relish alone). Others take a looser approach, balancing the value of family traditions with their Primal interests to forge a reasonable compromise for the day. There’s plenty of room under the Primal tent for both good, old-fashioned moderation and rock solid resoluteness, I’d say. Let’s take a closer look.

The “Taking 20” Approach

Yes, there’s the 80/20 Principle to consider here, and it plays out a little differently for everyone. Some folks stay pretty much fully Primal throughout the year but make their exceptions on special occasions like holidays and other celebrations. The thinking here is, “It’s only one day. I’ll have my stuffing and then go back to normal life the next day. No biggie.” Although I’m not advocating inhaling the Thanksgiving pie all by yourself, I understand the sense of making a moderate concession for the holiday. Every once in a while I’ll take that approach myself. Chalk it up to convenience or nostalgia, but Thanksgiving does only come once a year. Your family may have very meaningful traditions that you enjoy participating in, or you might just reserve a special place in your heart/stomach for a certain annual dish. Some folks will even consider the day a strategic carb-refeeding opportunity. My suggestion is to gauge where you’re at in your Primal journey. Beginners or those interested in weight loss might have a harder time traversing the route of moderation. After all, you don’t want a momentary compromise to derail your progress. However, if you feel you can enjoy it and then return to your Primal track the next day none the worse for the wear, go ahead and partake.

The “Stickin’ to Your Guns” Approach

Of all the days in the year, this can be the most difficult to navigate. Particularly if you’re spending the day with family or cooking with a non-Primal partner, your commitment can get some blowback even if it’s “tolerated” the rest of the year. Rest assured: you’re not a stick in the mud or a killjoy. It’s entirely your right to eat the way you want to on Thanksgiving just like it is every other day. You might choose to explain your reasoning (once again), or you might just try to lay low and avoid the subject for the day. (Comments/anecdotes, anyone?) In the interest of keeping peace and harmony, however, there are plenty of ways to politely turn down the un-Primal fare on the table.

The truth is, there are plenty of ways to make your holiday fully Primal – or any degree between. Whether you’re hosting or visiting, I invite you to look back at our most popular Thanksgiving recipes. They’ll truly an indulgent way to stay on track this holiday, and they’re proof once again that eating Primal doesn’t mean sacrificing taste.

Make It a Primal Thanksgiving!

Turkey Time: Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers

Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips

Primal Pies: Fill ‘er Up

Primal Holiday Desserts

Share your delicacies and you might even win over some converts!

However you choose to approach the holiday this week, know that it’s ultimately about owning your choice. Gorging with the delusion that a carb binge won’t have any repercussions isn’t exactly taking responsibility, but neither is seething at the holiday spread while swearing off a mere shadow of a carbohydrate.

The decision itself doesn’t matter as much as the spirit and knowledge behind it. Make your own, fully informed, entirely unapologetic choice and relish the holiday for all its worth!

Now it’s your turn. Good readers, what say you? Will you be invoking the Primal compromise or planning a fully Primal holiday? Vote and comment below.

What's Your Approach to Thanksgiving?

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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Totally sticking to my guns, and luckily, have the full support of my family. The most off plan food I’ll have is my Paleo version of cranberry relish, and it’s only slightly off plan because of the walnuts–there’s no added sugar.

    Patty wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  2. The main Thanksgiving meal itself is easy; there’s plenty of meat and veg to be had, and you can take or leave the rest. The hard part is the rest of the meals for the entire weekend when you’re visiting family (as many of us do for the holiday weekend).

    labbygail wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  3. for me, thanksgiving was always rather rough. i don’t like those starchy foods, i always felt aweful on thanksgiving.

    when i married, i had my IL’s version, which was even more starch-heavy than my own family.

    and, i was vegetarian at the time, so you can imagine that thanksgiving was NOT an exciting meal for me.

    but, then i decided that *i* would host it. It always got rave reviews (even though there was always grumbling about it not being “real”) and here was my “primal” menu, even though we were not primal:

    First Course: Creamy Broccoli soup–no potato, and actually, no cream. it was just this amazing, pureed soup i grabbed from Martha Stewart. *fantastic*

    Second Course: Salad — i got creative each year with all kinds of fun ingredients. i love fennel in a salad– nice and crunchy.

    Main Course: Turkey, roasted beats (two kinds), and crispy kale and mustard greens. I made home made gravy and a cream/cheese sauce so that people could choose. I also served a cranberry relish–home made–so it was cranberries, oranges, and green apples, in a food mill, then just soaking in their juices overnight. fantastic. bit of honey if needed to cut the tart! sometimes, soaking some cloves in there was pretty awesome too!

    Dessert course: I would make all fruit, no sugar sorbet and serve with chocolate shavings, or make pumpkin pudding with chocolate shavings. *great stuff*.

    as a vegetarian, i got my fill without the turkey. Primal, it’s an all win (perhaps for some all of the fruit would be in the 20, but still!).

    Zoebird wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  4. My fiance and I aren’t doing the a big Thanksgiving meal. We’re enjoying his day off, having bacon & eggs and for dinner, a steak & some sweet potatoes. :D

    Samantha wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  5. What’s great is that there is no one way that is right for everybody. We all have our own reasons for what we do and what we eat. I am convinced that eliminating grains (wheat in particular) has made a profound difference in my health. Whether it’s drastic or not, I look at it like poison and it becomes unappetizing. My carb intake is very low on a daily basis but I am not gonna sweat some extra sweet potatoes one day. I tend to stay steady with these kinds of things and have never viewed food as a reward — especially since I do not feel like I am depriving myself on a daily basis. We’ll be modifying the big offenders of stuffing with a no-flour version and we like mashed cauliflower more than mashed potatoes as well as thickening gravy with arrowroot. The rest is Turkey and veggies. The pumpkin pie will have a nut crust and be topped with a lot of home-made cinnamon whipped cream. Around my house we celebrate food every day. It’s just that this year I am even more thankful that I have found a lifestyle that satisfies both my body and soul. So, on this Thanksgiving I will be especially grateful for Mark, this website, and all the supportive folks who’s stories continually inspire me. THANK YOU ALL!

    Dustin Bopp wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  6. I have a great relationship with my (non-Primal) family, but I’ve elected to not mention being Primal since getting back into it a year ago. It’s turned been great – no stress. There are no jibes or awkwardness, and people are so wrapped up in eating and having a good time, that no one has ever noticed. I’ve thrown entire Primal dinner parties with no comment from anyone.

    Since I have been voluntold to host Thanksgiving this year, there will be stuffing to retain some semblance of tradition and to satisfy the masses, but I have no intention of consuming it.

    I will also be offering MDA’s own Sausage Squash Casserole, and a roasted root veggie medley as sides. Who knows, maybe the family will like it and make it on their own, being a little bit more Primal in their own way.

    Emily H. wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  7. My Plan of attack (does require advanced preperation):

    Convert your mother & sister who in turn convert your father and brother in law who in turn convert their friends. Have Thanksgiving together. Believe it or not I first became Primal this Sept. 1st. It took less than 3 months to orchastrate this. Mwa ha ha ha.

    me2 wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  8. 20%, gotta have the cranberry sauce with the turkey.

    Having pumpkin cheesecake instead of pie, going to eat about 750 calories worth of that sucker.

    rob wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  9. Thanksgiving Day is definitely a 20 day for me. I love stuffing and pumpkin pie, so I will eat them without hesitation. I’m not crazy about mashed potatoes, so I can easily avoid them. This year we are having a close-to-primal sweet potato recipe, so there won’t be the buttery-sweet candied sweets to contend with. Overall, an aberration but a fun one.

    Paula wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  10. A mix of both.. I’m hosting Thanksgiving at my place this year, so I have almost full control over the entire menu (Free Range, Organic, Local Turkey, Buttercup Squash (no sugar, extra butter), primalized gravy and cranberry sauce, etc). However, I’m baking standard (white flour) pies with ice cream, stuffing in the bird and more for the others.

    I’m looking to stay around 90% primal to whole way through. Wish me luck because buttered rolls are amazing!

    The Primal Pig wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  11. i’ll be going about 90/10–i will definitely have a bit of mashed potatoes and maybe one delicious cheesey bicuit that i’m making from scratch. My fam is curious about the primal stuffing i’m making, so maybe i’ll get some converts! :)

    steph wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  12. Primal all the way. I’ve got it easier since I’m having Thanksgiving with a bunch of friends and we have no real tradition of it.

    Andrea Reina wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  13. We don’t have Thanks Giving in Australia but at Christmas I will likely try to ‘stick to my guns’. I don’t have to worry about offending anyone as my family live so far apart that we usually do not even see each other at Christmas. None of us are financial enough to be able to afford the travel.
    I have to agree with Helen, that eating grains etc, even once a year, would be upsetting for my health. I would rather enjoy the holiday in good health with plenty of energy rather than try the 80/20. I have also converted my immediately family to almost primal, so it is fairly easy to stay primal.

    Kitty wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  14. I think some folks just tend to stretch the truth a little.
    80/20? A couple of holidays a year to make it 70/30? No problem for me.

    Lute Nikoley wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  15. PUT YOUR HANDS UP AND STEP AWAY SLOWLY FROM THAT STUFFING!

    yayaman wrote on November 23rd, 2010
    • ok ok done, and you can have my wallet also :-)

      WildGrok wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  16. Full body workout in the Am, Eating EVERYTHING with family and friends, then Black Friday Tradition with friends. Pumped!

    Ahmed Serag wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  17. Nothing wrong with piling a heaping helping of turkey with all the skin I can pick out (or steal from the young children), and a heaping pile of salad. My family is not so judgmental that they are checking my plate to make sure that I have my ration of mashed potatoes and gravy.

    The only thing I feel like I’m missing out on, is the bloated gaseous feeling that everyone else has when they say “Oh dear god, I ate so much I think I’m going to explode!” I’ll be happy and satisfied, but in no danger of explosions…I’m okay with that.

    anzy wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  18. I am just starting this and I love how good I feel! Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been my “20” I just look at it as a few times a year I get to indulge in some delicious treats! In the last few years I have been more selective in where I really indulge – foregoing most sweets and rolls for mashed potatoes – my very favorite!!!

    Sherry wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  19. I’m doing half 20%, half primal. So I guess that’s 10%

    junebu8 wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  20. 80/20 for me! No way am I missing my grandma’s pecan pie and fluffy homemade biscuits!! They’re only once a year!

    Sonia wrote on November 23rd, 2010
    • Hey, Sonia!

      I have your success story all lined up for this coming Saturday. Thank you for sending it in! Best.

      Mark Sisson wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  21. After much deliberation, I decided to take my 20% with some mashed potatoes and a slice of gluten-free spice cake with cream cheese frosting.

    suzan wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  22. iIt’s easy to make a wheat, gluten and sugar free pumpkin pie. I made on this weekend. The crust was ground flax seed with a little rice flour, butter, cream cheese and agave and maple syrup. The filling had pumpkin, 3 eggs, no cream, a little milk, a little protein powder, seasonings, and it was YUMMERS!!!

    Caitlyn wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  23. My family is French Canadian ancestry and for generations holidays included French meat pie (Tourtiere) That is my biggest concession. Turkey, meat pie, lots of veggies. Cauliflower for mashed potatoes, roasted pumpkin casserole will sub for the sweet potato casserole, gravy made with home made broth. I made a low carb bread for the stuffing and will have a little of that. Pumpkin cheesecake with nut crust for desert. Guess that’s about 80/20.

    Myra wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  24. PS – Primal cranberry relish is easy too. In a grinder, grind up whole cranberries, and an orange or two, with the peel, and then add honey to taste, and let it sit overnight and WOW is that good!! You’ll never by canned again. This is an old family recipe.

    Caitlyn wrote on November 23rd, 2010
    • Sounds wonderful! I’m going to try it! Thanks!

      Paula wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  25. Mark, it is from this time of year through to the New Year that I anticipate your posts even more eagerly.
    I do think it is possible to stay primal on T-day. After all, there are plenty of veggie sides as well as the turkey itself, to fill one up without adding potatoes and stuffing (and I love love love stuffing). I can do without them. I will be enjoying some red wine though :)
    I am running a marathon Thanksgiving morning so I will enjoy the turkey as the fruits of my ‘hunt.’

    Lisa wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  26. When I’ve stuck to my guns at past Thanksgivings & Christmasses, I’ve noticed that I’m the only one in the gathering not miserable after dinner. Works for me!

    Caitlyn wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  27. This year my fourteen year old daughter is in charge of cooking the meal for the first time so she chose the menu, though her mother and I did have input. Lots of turkey and green beans and salad for me, as well as the squash soup and mashed yams. I think I’m going to pass up the bread stuffing, mashed potatoes (okay maybe a little bit), and the grasshopper pie (which somehow has become a holiday tradition in the house that I do not understand). The apple pie may be harder to pass up.

    I do know one thing though, since going primal the quality of the food around here has really improved so the quality of this meal will be fabulous.

    Doug lidz wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  28. I say go all-out on Thanksgiving if that’s what you want to do. If you’re worried about what one day will do to your health/physique, you’re not doing all the other days of the year correctly.

    Matt Schoeneberger wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  29. I’ve already planned ahead and had a talk with my mom a few weeks about about my desire to change my eating/lifestyle habits. I asked her to cook the vegetables in olive oil instead of butter (as I’m going the dairy-free route as well) and to bake a sweet potato for me on the side that I can add some cinnamon/spices to. Appetizer-wise, we will be having peel and eat shrimp and a tray of cut-up veggies, so I’ll be good to go. While I do like apple and pumpkin pies, they are not something I’m that tempted by or feel I can’t live without tasting. Instead, I will be enjoying some fresh fruit. Lastly, I will just stick to drinknig water instead of wine or beer. Since I’m fairly new to eating primally, I feel that I have to stick to my guns and be ultra-strict until I start truly feeling the positive effects from eating primally. I’ll be sure to get a work-out in that day too, so I can fully enjoy that sweet potato as my post-workout meal :) For once, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving without being stressed out about what I’ll be consuming.

    Susan M. wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  30. I voted for “Taking 20,” but choosing to indulge on a holiday that is full of traditions in my family doesn’t mean that those traditions can’t progress and be made somewhat healthier.
    One of my cousins discovered he’s gluten-intolerant a few years back, so we started making pies with gluten-free crusts. We’ve added a fall-themed salad (think red pears, nuts, etc) to our Thanksgiving dinner. The past couple of years, we’ve bought free-range, locally-raised, organic turkeys.

    AmyMac703 wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  31. Give me lots of turkey, green been caserole, stuffing, tons of the veggie dishes and a little bit of whatever else is made. Thank you 20%

    Oh, and yes I will have a dessert. Thanks again 20.

    Primal Toad wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  32. I’m having a potluck Thanksgiving at a friend’s house who happens to be gluten-free. So, Hubby is making the bird and I’m making cranberries (I’ll probably cut the sugar and sub in a little stevia to reduce the carb overload), cripsy garlic haricots, fennel-apple slaw, a gf- apple-pear tart and possible a Primal pumpkin pie (with almond flour crust).
    My friend is making the sweet potatoes (I wish I was- her’s are going to be too sweet!) and my mom is doing gf stuffing, mashed potatoes and gf gravy. I will probably go very easy on the starchy stuff and leave my carb allotment for the pie!

    Erin wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  33. I appreciate all of the advice for Thanksgiving. I’ve been a little disappointed in myself lately. I lost a quick 20 lbs since Labor day. However, it has really slowed to a snail’s pace if not stopped. I’m not sure what to do to kick start my loss again and Thanksgiving and a family wedding on the weekend really scare me a bit. Any thoughts?

    Brad wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  34. I guess I am going 80/20, but it’s definitely going to be more primal than in years past. I will have some potatoes and perhaps a slice of dessert, but other than that I plan on eating the rest primally. Well, OK, maybe a smidge of stuffing… but really, thanksgiving can be a great meal to have lots of meat and vegetables so I want to take advantage of that for leftovers.

    Rakel wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  35. I wish I was attending Elana Amsterdam’s Thanksgiving feast (of elana’s pantry, yum!) – was just looking at her website & every single recipe sounded awesome! We’re doing potluck style, so I’ll be bringing her grain-free cranberry apple stuffing and almond flour biscuits, mashed squash, almond butter pumpkin bread, and will feast on the local free range turkey my family ordered. Yay!

    Amanda wrote on November 23rd, 2010
    • Elana has excellent taste. I make her cilantro, green chile turkey burgers that she adapted from Mark, here.

      cj wrote on November 25th, 2010
  36. Grok did celebrate social occasions with a feast and I argue that the abdication from the festivities is more stress to the self than Grok would have ever felt in his life.

    Bobby Fernandez wrote on November 23rd, 2010
    • You make an excellent point.

      BW wrote on November 24th, 2010
  37. It’s cheating day for me BUT with Brussel sprouts roasted with bacon and apples.

    DBeee! wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  38. I will be taking the day off with some caveats. I plan on sticking to my regular eating habits except for the dinner and dessert. Also, I may just have one good bite of stuffing, etc. If it doesn’t taste incredible, I don’t feel it’s worth the trouble I will have the next day trying to get back on track.

    Shari wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  39. 20/80
    Organic veggies and butter for me,
    asparagus braised – not organic
    Standard turkey – not organic
    yam pie (personal for me) organic
    yam pie for the others – non organic
    twice baked tater organic for me
    apple cobbler with organic apples and sugars
    Pumpkin pies off the Libby’s can.
    bread crumb and gizzard stuffing will grain fed chicken eggs
    Blackforest Pie
    Honey Baked Ham (for everyone else)

    Holly Feray wrote on November 23rd, 2010
  40. I just started going primal about 2 weeks ago and have never felt better! That said, I have a feeling temptation will take hold this Turkey Day. Such is the cost of having so many great cooks with delicious holiday recipes in the family. But hey, I still plan skip the rolls ;D

    Garrett wrote on November 23rd, 2010

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