10 Tips for a Thinner Thanksgiving

10 Tips for a Thinner Thanksgiving

September 01, 2015

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year, so why not go ahead and splurge? Because gaining weight during the holiday season is a national pastime. Year after year, most of us pack on at least a pound (some gain more) during the holidays -- and keep the extra weight permanently.

But Thanksgiving does not have to sabotage your weight, experts say. With a little know-how, you can satisfy your desire for traditional favorites and still enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving feast. After all, being stuffed is a good idea only if you are a turkey!

Get Active

  • Create a calorie deficit by exercising to burn off extra calories before you ever indulge in your favorite foods, suggests Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, president-elect of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
  • "'Eat less and exercise more' is the winning formula to prevent weight gain during the holidays," Diekman says. "Increase your steps or lengthen your fitness routine the weeks ahead and especially the day of the feast."
  • Make fitness a family adventure, recommends Susan Finn, PhD, RD, chair of the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition: "Take a walk early in the day and then again after dinner. It is a wonderful way for families to get physical activity and enjoy the holiday together."

Eat Breakfast

  • While you might think it makes sense to save up calories for the big meal, experts say eating a small meal in the morning can give you more control over your appetite. Start your day with a small but satisfying breakfast -- such as an egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast, or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk -- so you won't be starving when you arrive at the gathering.
  • "Eating a nutritious meal with protein and fiber before you arrive takes the edge off your appetite and allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices," says Diekman.

Lighten Up

Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a few dishes to share, make your recipes healthier with less fat, sugar, and calories.

"There is more sugar and fat in most recipes than is needed, and no one will notice the difference if you skim calories by using lower calorie ingredients," says Diekman.

Her suggestions:

  1. Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  2. Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  3. Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  4. Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.

Police Your Portions

Thanksgiving tables are bountiful and beautiful displays of traditional family favorites. Before you fill your plate, survey the buffet table and decide what you're going to choose. Then select reasonable-sized portions of foods you cannot live without.

"Don't waste your calories on foods that you can have all year long," suggests Diekman. "Fill your plate with small portions of holiday favorites that only come around once a year so you can enjoy desirable, traditional foods."

Skip the Seconds.

      Try to resist the temptation to go back for second helpings.

      "Leftovers are much better the next day, and if you limit yourself to one plate, you are less likely to overeat and have more room for a delectable dessert," Diekman says.
Choose the Best Bets on the Buffet.

      While each of us has our own favorites, keep in mind that some holiday foods are better choices than others.

      "White turkey meat, plain vegetables, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, defatted gravy, and pumpkin pie tend to be the best bets because they are lower in fat and calories," says Diekman. But she adds that, "if you keep your portions small, you can enjoy whatever you like."

Slowly Savor

Eating slowly, putting your fork down between bites, and tasting each mouthful is one of the easiest ways to enjoy your meal and feel satisfied with one plate full of food, experts say. Choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, salads, and other foods with lots of water and fiber add to the feeling of fullness.

Spread out the food and fun all day long. At the Finn family Thanksgiving gathering, they schedule dessert after a walk, while watching a movie together.

"We eat midday, and instead of another meal at dinnertime, we continue the feast with dessert a few hours after the main meal," Finn explains.

Go Easy on Alcohol

Don't forget those alcohol calories that can add up quickly.

"Have a glass of wine or a wine spritzer and between alcoholic drinks, (or) enjoy sparkling water," says Diekman. "this way you stay hydrated, limit alcohol calories, and stay sober."
Be Realistic

The holiday season is a time for celebration. With busy schedules and so many extra temptations, this is a good time to strive for weight maintenance instead of weight loss.

"Shift from a mindset of weight loss to weight maintenance," says Finn. "You will be ahead of the game if you can avoid gaining any weight over the holidays."

Focus on Family and Friends

Thanksgiving is not just about the delicious bounty of food. It's a time to celebrate relationships with family and friends.

"The main event should be family and friends socializing, spending quality time together, not just what is on the buffet," says Finn.

Getting Started on Losing Weight Long Term

Losing weight and keeping it off is not easy. Before you get started on a weight loss program, consider the following tips. They should help you reach your goal of obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight.

Set the Right Goals:

Setting effective goals is an important first step. Most people trying to lose weight focus on just that one goal: weight loss. However, the most productive areas to focus on are the dietary and exercise changes that will lead to long-term weight control. Successful weight managers are those who select two or three goals at a time that they are willing to take on. Keep in mind that effective goals are specific, attainable, and forgiving. For example, "exercise more" is a wonderful goal, but it's not specific. "Walk five miles everyday" is specific and measurable, but is it attainable if you're just starting out? "Walk 30 minutes every day" is more attainable, but what happens if you're held up at work one day and there's a thunderstorm during your walking time another day? "Walk 30 minutes, five days each week" is specific, attainable, and forgiving.

Reward Success (But Not With Food!):

Rewards that you can control can be used to encourage you to attain your weight control goals, especially those that have been difficult for you to reach. An effective reward is something that is desirable, timely, and contingent on meeting your goal. Rewards may include treating yourself to a movie or music CD or taking an afternoon off from work or just an hour of quiet time away from family. Keep in mind that numerous small rewards, delivered for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards, requiring a long, difficult effort.

Balance Your (Food) Checkbook:

This means that you should monitor your eating behavior by observing and recording some aspect of your eating behavior, such as how many calories you eat in a day, how many servings of fruits and vegetables you eat per day, how often and for how long you exercise, etc., or an outcome of these behaviors, such as weight. Doing this can really help you determine how you are doing and what you need to do to meet your weight control goals.

Avoid a Chain Reaction:

Identify those social and environmental cues that tend to encourage undesired eating, and then work to change those cues. For example, you may learn that you're more likely to overeat while watching television, or whenever treats are on display by the office coffee pot. Then work to sever the association of eating with the cue (don't eat while watching television), avoid or eliminate the cue (leave coffee room immediately after pouring coffee). In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating.

Get the (Fullness) Message:

Changing the way you go about eating can make it easier to eat less without feeling deprived. It takes 15 or more minutes for your brain to get the message you've been fed. So slow down the rate that you eat food. That will allow satiety (fullness) signals to begin to develop by the end of the meal. Eating lots of vegetables or fruit can also make you feel fuller. Another trick is to use smaller plates so that moderate portions do not appear meager. In addition, changing your eating schedule, or setting one, can help you reach your goal, especially if you tend to skip, or delay, meals and overeat later.

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
Reviewed by the Department of Nutrition Therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD, WebMD April 2007.

Posted In:

Meal and Menu Planning, Weight Management