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Updated on Friday morning with details on how the day went for Daniel Rossi.

Thanksgiving is a big deal — and a big meal — in the Rossi household. Which makes it big challenge this year for Daniel Rossi, GeekWire’s chief business officer.

Daniel is in the early stages of an effort to transform his health through genetic analysis, behavioral changes, a healthier diet and regular exercise — leveraging the latest in technology and science to improve his health and manage his Type 2 Diabetes.

SPECIAL SERIES: Follow this GeekWire staffer as he reprograms his health, starting with his genes

We’re documenting his project through a year-long series on GeekWire. Given the struggle that many people face when trying to stay healthy during the holidays, we checked in with Daniel again this week to find out about Thanksgiving strategy.

One thing became immediately apparent: Daniel is a Thanksgiving fan, he loves to cook and eat, and he won’t be skipping any of his family’s traditions. Instead, his plan for staying healthy involves smart modifications to the holiday meal, with input from his coach at Arivale, the scientific wellness program.

Here’s a Q&A with Daniel explaining what he’s up against and his strategy for today.

Q: Tell us about your Thanksgiving meal plans and family traditions.

Daniel Rossi: Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. We invite family and friends over to the Rossi household where we set a festive tone and do most of the cooking. I cook and Mandy bakes. Guests are greeted with wine or cocktails by my wife while I’m busy in the kitchen orchestrating a complex dance to ensure that everything is steaming hot and ready at exactly the same time. I’m a dictator in the kitchen so stay out of my way. Seriously.

Our dinner includes the bird, and she’s a big bird, brined for two days, stuffed, and roasted to perfection. I make a pate out of the turkey liver for the adventurous. Usually that’s just me. We’ll have secret-recipe mashed potatoes, gravy made from the turkey drippings, stuffing with crispy edges, green bean casserole, a salad medley, fresh baked rolls and jam, and cranberry sauce. Mandy even makes a special mustard that goes well with the turkey that takes two days. Dessert is pie — homemade pumpkin and pecan with whipped cream.

We usually eat twice on Thanksgiving. Once at around 2 p.m. and then later when we’ve napped and are ready again. Immediately after dinner number one I’ll carve the remaining meat off the turkey bones and get a pot boiling. I take the bones and a pot full of vegetables that were stuffed in the bird (carrots, celery, sweet onions, lemons, beets, and cilantro) and make a broth. It takes a few hours. I’ll make a turkey and vegetable homemade noodle soup out of this that will last for a week. This year I’m dropping the noodles.

Q: How else will you be modifying the meal?

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts, via the Food Charlatan.

DR: I’ll make a mashed cauliflower dish that is low in carbs and lower in calories to eat instead of the mashed potatoes. My Arivale coach sent me a roasted sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts recipe that I’ll add for everyone. It looks amazing. Sweet potatoes are a good alternative for diabetics because they are a low glycemic index food. They’ll spike my blood sugar less than regular potatoes.

I don’t nibble while cooking this meal. I may drink and if I choose to do that I’ll stick to a sparkling water or good tea. That’s quite different than in the past but I’ll be doing most of my cooking in the morning.

Q: What about dessert?

DR: I mentioned two pies. I’ll avoid those or have a very small piece. There IS a lower carb pumpkin pie recipe that is essentially a low-sugar version of pumpkin pie without the crust. I plan on having that or making myself a special sugar-free flan. I love flan. And because of its high protein content from the eggs, a sugar free version is a low sugar spiker. I may also make sugar free jello jigglers to snack on instead of something high sugar.

Q: How important is food to your enjoyment of a holiday?

DR: This holiday is about the meal. It’s literally historically based on this meal. So it’s vital. The entire process is a tradition, from the early morning wake up call to the kitchen dance to the after dinner crafts that my wife insists upon. To me, no food means no holiday. I might as well be working. Who wants to buy an ad campaign?

Q: What advice has your coach given you?

DR: First, exercise hard this week. Based on her recommendation, I’ve been doing that. I’ll work out on Thanksgiving too. I’m actually going to attempt to do the Columbus turkey trot (at 5 AM) with my brothers. I’ll be doing Green Lake while they run their route back in the homeland. I’ll attempt to chat on the phone with them while I do it. Our conversation will be mostly bad jokes told through panted breath but I’ll be doing a 5K before I eat.

Her other suggestions are to find healthy alternatives to certain favorites (i.e. mashed cauliflower, brussels sprout medley, dessert alternatives). And other than that it’s simply be mindful when I’m eating and try not to over do it like I’ve done in the past. …

Finally, for Thanksgiving, she recommended I behave as normally as possible. Eat a good breakfast and don’t go into the meal too hungry. Hydrate all day. Exercise. And finally, take it easy, enjoy the PEOPLE around the table as much as the food. And that’s really it.

Q: What are your favorite Thanksgiving foods and sides? Any specific strategies for substitutions?

Thanksgiving table at the Rossi house. (GeekWire Photo / Daniel Rossi)
Thanksgiving table at the Rossi house. (GeekWire Photo / Daniel Rossi)

DR: I LOVE the stuffing. It’s my very favorite thing. So I’ll have some this year but I’m going to stick to a small serving. I’ll do my best to fill up on the plentiful veggies that are available. I’ll also drink a giant glass of water before sitting down to eat and try to have at least one more while eating. The goal is to fill up on more of the lower calorie items while still enjoying the things I love.

Q: What will be your tricks for maintaining discipline while everyone else is chowing down and overeating?

DR: This is a tough question. I don’t know for sure. I’ll make sure I eat a good breakfast with a lot of protein so I’m not overly hungry at dinner time. I’ll have a lot of non-calorie drinks. I remind myself why I’m changing then I’ll fill my plate with veggies first. I’ll do these things and hope I feel sated. I’ll also have half portions of the things I love so I don’t feel deprived. The worst thing for me is to resist to the point of snapping. I don’t want to snap and then binge on pie and stuffing, black out, and wake up in a dumpster in New Jersey on Saturday not knowing how I got there. It’s happened. :)

Q: We work in an office where food is all around. How are you managing?

DR: I got a little pissy at all of the Halloween candy around. I threw it away once (after fair warning) but someone dug it out of the trash. Other than that I’m doing just fine. I get a salad when we order out. I drink my coffee and water. I snack on nuts and low glycemic index foods. I’m packing my lunches now that I’m settled in the new house. And several of my officemates are cheering me on so it’s not too hard.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

DR: Thanks for all of those people that reached out to cheer me on. This really isn’t easy for me. It’s a major change that I have to make but I don’t necessarily want to make it, yet. I think that will change once I start seeing improvements. I look forward to a stronger, slimmer version of me meeting up with you all at Green Lake for a jog. Happy Thanksgiving!

Daniel and Rufus at Green Lake.
Daniel and Rufus at Green Lake.

Update, Friday morning 11/25: Here’s the word from Daniel on the day after …

Daniel Rossi after the Thanksgiving meal.
Daniel Rossi after the Thanksgiving meal.

“It went well. I managed to stick to my guns for the most part. I ate lean turkey and mostly veggies including the sweet potato and Brussels sprouts dish my coach sent. Everyone really liked it. I ate cauliflower mashed potatoes instead of the real thing. I had a big salad. I drank at least a liter of water at dinner.

“For the ‘bad’ sugar spiking food, I had a small serving of stuffing and a disc of cranberry relish I love it from the can. And I didn’t have time to make a sugar free dessert so I did end up eating pie. It was like nectar from the gods.

“I made my broth from the bones. Today I’ll skim away the fat and will finish my turkey veggie soup. I’d give myself a solid B. I’d say that Thanksgiving was a success.”

NEXT: The first results from Daniel’s genetic analysis.

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