In some ways, Thanksgiving is about abundance: A table where every seat is filled by someone you love, a feeling of all the many blessings in your life, and a bountiful feast of festive dishes adorning the dinner table. From turkey—or tofurkey—to Thanksgiving side dishes like mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, bread, drinks, and a bakery-worthy array of pies, the Thanksgiving meal is one marked by rich food and more frequently than not, overindulgence.
While it’s important to enjoy the holiday and the time and special meal with your loved ones if you’re on a diet or working hard on specific weight and health goals, navigating Thanksgiving without completely sabotaging your progress can feel impossible. However, with a little careful planning and mindful decisions about what you’re going to eat—and skip—it is completely possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without derailing your diet and weight loss goals. Keep reading for our top tips for having a happy and healthy Thanksgiving this year.
One common fallacy whenever it comes to dieting is trying to bank calories for later by skipping meals. However, this usually ends up backfiring because it can lead to overeating. By skipping breakfast on Thanksgiving, your blood sugar levels will drop, which can cause an urge to binge or overeat once you finally allow yourself to dig in. Eat a healthy, protein-rich breakfast like Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit or a protein shake, and a light lunch with plenty of fiber and fresh vegetables. Be sure to have filling, nutritious snacks on hand like hummus and fresh vegetables or cottage cheese.
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Start your Thanksgiving off right with some exercise. Consider walking or running in a Turkey Trot or getting in a workout before you host or hit the road to head to Thanksgiving dinner. If your gym is closed for Thanksgiving, try an at-home workout instead.
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Imagine your Thanksgiving meal like visiting the candy store as a kid. You have a certain amount of “money” (calories) to spend on Thanksgiving. Before sitting down at the table, look around at all the various dishes available and consider how you want to budget your calories and partition them accordingly. Choose the foods you really want, avoid the ones you can do without, and plan one or two special “indulgences” like your favorite slice of pie or sweet potato casserole.
Many drinks are high in calories. The average beer or soda, for instance, has about 150 calories. Save your alcohol drinking for the actual meal rather than drinking all afternoon. You can approach wine during the holidays if you opt for high quality wine. That said, failing to stay hydrated is a recipe for overeating, so be sure to drink plenty of water, seltzer, club soda, black coffee, or unsweetened tea throughout the day to keep your body hydrated and prevent the natural inclination to conflate thirst with hunger.
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You don’t have to have a mountain of everything on your plate to enjoy it. Create your own “tasting menu” as if you were at a fancy restaurant. Keep your portion sizes small and allow yourself the freedom to sample everything you want to, but allow just a couple of bites of each on your plate. That way, you’re not deprived of trying something, but you stay within a reasonable caloric intake.
Fiber is filling. Load your Thanksgiving plate with fiber-rich foods like leafy greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and other non-starchy vegetables. If there’s going to be a table or snacks, hors d’oeuvres, and appetizer dishes, be sure to befriend the fresh vegetable platter. It will help fill you up without setting you back calorie-wise. If you are going to be a guest at someone else’s home for the holiday, bring the vegetable platter to share or a healthy non-starchy side for the dinner to ensure there will be something light and nutritious for everyone.
One way to save calories on Thanksgiving is to skip anything you can have on a regular basis for the rest of the year. Things like rolls, butter, and even mashed potatoes, often make their way into your everyday diet. Therefore, you don’t need to add them to your plate at the Thanksgiving table; enjoy the special foods that only come around a couple of times a year.
Take it from Ross Geller on Friends who was basically forced into a sabbatical from work when he flipped out after someone ate his coveted sandwich made from leftover Thanksgiving turkey: When it comes to Thanksgiving foods, some people love the leftovers even more than the meal itself. There are almost always leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, so remind yourself that you can have a little bit again tomorrow—and maybe even the next day—instead of stuffing everything into your mouth to the point of nearly falling into a food coma.
When it comes to actual eating, try to be as present as possible. Instead of shoveling food in your mouth (which, let’s face it, can be hard to resist), savor each bite and really try to taste the flavors and textures of everything on your plate. Put your fork down between bites and give yourself time to fully chew your food at a deliberately controlled pace. This mindful practice will help slow you down and give your body a chance to signal when you are full while also extending the length of time you’re eating a smaller quantity of food.
Remember: At the end of the day, one meal or even one full day of overindulging will not derail your weight loss plan or healthy lifestyle goals. Enjoy the holiday for what it is, and commit to getting back to your nutrition and exercise routine the next day if you end up feasting and indulging more than you planned to.
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