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Having a Healthier Thanksgiving: Advice on How to Reframe Your Attitude

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Thanksgiving kicks off a six week period that can put people in a state of anxiety about potential weight gain, loneliness, unresolved family relationships, and a generalized, "It's the end of the year and where am I?" angst.

As individuals get overwhelmed with the demands of giving presents, travel, and social obligations, they often deflect those concerns into dysfunctional behavior. This evidences itself in how they handle alcohol intake, eating, and their relationships.

It doesn't have to be that way.

While reaching out to numerous experts about the best approach for avoiding the pitfalls of the season, I connected with Dennis Grounds, a coach for both the body and the mind. I knew I was talking with a different kind of lifestyle expert when he said, "I believe we should find a holiday in every day, not just when the media and society determines it is the time for love and gifts."

Grounds shared insights on how to view the challenges of Thanksgiving differently, while giving me the backstory of his personal narrative. Raised in Texas by a father who sold hunting rifles, introspection was not encouraged in his upbringing. After receiving a degree in Exercise Physiology, Grounds began a career as a personal trainer. In 1987, a health crisis precipitated a turning point. He was diagnosed as being HIV positive, and told that he had ten years to live. While working through his own self-awareness journey, he realized that he had more to offer than just fitness workouts. He studied life coaching and healing, included nutrition consulting with physical workouts, and combined all the modalities to help people reach an integrated end goal. (His health is excellent and he has never been on medication.)

Based on the premise that the physical and emotional are intertwined, Grounds tackles coping with Thanksgiving as a complete picture. "Attitude" is the lynchpin. He believes that pressure and stress are feelings that are manufactured. He advocates taking notice of when these feelings become present; then stopping, taking a breath, and asking yourself what would serve you best in that instance. Rather than focusing on perceived deficits, he encourages connecting with "gratitude." This translates into not being overwhelmed by what you perceive you are lacking, but instead asking yourself, "What do I have right now?" Encompassed in that reflection is "the food you are eating, the friends and family you are surrounded by, and the love in your life." In other words, "It's about being in the present, and shifting the context about the way you look at things." Grounds pointed out that we live in a fear-based society that is preoccupied with worrying about the future--and not living in the moment.

When I asked him about dealing with unresolved--and often prickly-- family dynamics that are prone to come up at the Thanksgiving gathering, he suggested a pro-active attitude rather than a reactive one. Bottom line: Seeing family members for who they are and not trying to change them. "You can't control others," he told me. "You can only control yourself. You can choose to react, or to let it go." Accepting that reality is the first step toward relinquishing the need to engage in conflict. He added dryly, "Who says you have to spend ten hours with your family when you only have tolerance for two?"

Walking away from an argument that comes from an old pattern can be as challenging as not going for a second piece of pie. However, it is in sync with Grounds's philosophy that everything begins with outlook, and that Thanksgiving is a time of choices.

Based on this premise, Grounds walked me through eating a fulfilling Thanksgiving dinner without feeling deprived, while being conscious about a healthy relationship to food. He broke down the traditional feast to a moderate serving of a protein (turkey), a carbohydrate (stuffing), and a fat (gravy), with fresh vegetables as an excellent alternative to repeated helpings. Explaining that the brain often craves something sweet, he acknowledged that desire--but underscored that it should be rewarded in moderation. For Grounds, the mantra was "portion control." He advised, "Don't eat more than could fit into the palm of your hand." Another strategy he emphasized was to drink ample amounts of water before your meal and between courses, so you are less likely to fill up with calories. On the subject of alcohol, he suggested a two-glass (16 ounces) maximum of either red (preferred) or white wine.

On this Thanksgiving, engage in connecting your energy to what you have now. Rethink the old patterns. As Grounds stated, "Old systems have to break down for new ones to start."

This article originally appeared on the women's health site Empowher.

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