Calah Wesley, MSNIH
The plates begin to arrive at the table, one by one. Each offering has a magnificent smell, followed almost immediately by a warming sense of nostalgia. It’s Thanksgiving; a day truly dedicated equally to those we love and the largest intake of a set menu throughout the year. This is the moment that the hours you spent preparing more food than you can possibly eat comes to fruition. Whether you’ve skipped breakfast or had a light lunch in preparation, as each dish makes its way to the beautifully set table, your mouth begins to salivate.
Three appetizers, eight main courses, and four desserts later (perhaps a couple of intermittent cocktails in between), seams are bursting. Those pants you recently fit into again are asking for the belt to be loosened a notch. The next wave is one of relaxation and sleep. The remainder of the football game, a nap, or cozied up in the living room with family chatting for another couple of hours- the body is settling down.
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As a nutrition specialist, I could adjust Thanksgiving traditions from every angle, attempting to alter the menu one ingredient at a time. However, as we round out a busy November in a year that has been nothing if not full of changes to the norm, I think balance is the key to moving forward. The more I ruminate on how we can uphold one of the few traditions we have been able to pursue this year; two things come to mind.
Remember the beginning of the array of courses on the table, each dish arriving individually to be admired differently? As soon as you think of the dishes your family has and the way they smell freshly prepared, you may begin to salivate all over again. Saliva is the biological response for the preparation of consumption. When your brain tells your mouth that you are going to eat, the saliva activates. Like a superhero, it begins the readying process of breaking down nutrients before a bite has been taken. Due to the high carbohydrate count of Thanksgiving, another enzyme found within our saliva is equally responsible for breaking down those carbohydrates, amylase. Amylase is the star of the day for this particular meal, and while other enzymes such as lingual lipase have minute roles in the mouth, they play larger roles later on. Here is my point: these enzymes in our saliva are the signal that our bodies will break down food. The amount of saliva your body produces will become smaller as you become full. Put simply, your body will begin to tell you when to slow down or stop eating. The first step to moving forward in your health journey is to slow down the eating process and allow your body to talk to you.
After your body has done the talking, and the belt wishes to be un-notched a notch, pause before you sit down to rest. Before you sit and get cozy, bundle up and walk outside for ten minutes. Movement aids the body in digestion, and will keep you out of the slump that is after-turkey. Bundle the family up, if you have dogs they will adore this new tradition, and go for a once (or twice)-around the block. You will not regret the movement.
So many things are different this year, let’s have our effort toward a healthier 2021 begin with a couple of simple steps (see what I did there?) that don’t take away from the traditions we all hold so close. Wherever you are, whomever you are with, I wish you balance this holiday season.