Eating Healthy at Thanksgiving

How to Avoid Gaining Weight Over the Thanksgiving Holiday

by Dr. Roseanne Dembeck and Dr. Ben Weitz

Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t always so indulgent or calorie filled.  It was all eaten over a three day celebration.  It wasn’t until the mid-late 1800s that the meal became a national past time, when it was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln.  Did you know that the traditional Thanksgiving meal can be full of nearly 5,000 calories or more?  Yikes!!  That’s double what most of us should eat on a daily basis, let alone at one meal.

Thanksgiving weight gain isn’t inevitable.  With a few simple changes you can enjoy the feast without wrapping yourself in those extra pounds.  Consider these ways to help maintain your weight while still enjoying the good cheer and delicious food on Thanksgiving Day.

  1. LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONLY ONE PLATE OF FOOD.  Fill 1/3 of your plate with turkey and other meats, though avoid the skin of the turkey and go easy on the gravy.  Fill 1/3 of your plate with various color vegetables—greens, green beans, peppers, carrots, beets, etc..  Fill the remaining 1/3 of your plate with whatever you want.   Let yourself have one small slice of pie for dessert.
  2. DON’T SAVE UP.  Don’t avoid eating earlier in the day and save calories from earlier meals for “the big one.”  You will inevitably get too hungry and overeat to compensate for missing those meals.  Thanksgiving Day should include small healthful meals before dinner.  Then, you won’t be too famished to practice portion control when dinnertime comes.
  3. AVOID HIGH CALORIE D’OUVRES AND APPETIZERS.  Munch on fresh veggies and fruit instead of high fat appetizers.  Have a large serving of salad if it’s available.  Don’t eat food just because it’s there.
  4. AVOID THE SUPER HIGH CALORIE FOODS.  Avoid the mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, and the cheese filled casseroles.  Eat only a small portion of cranberry sauce, as it is loaded with sugar.
  5. PACE YOURSELF AND EAT MINDFULLY. Eat slowly and savor every bite. Put your fork down between bites and take the time to talk to family and friends and enjoy the sense of community.  Give the food a chance to let you feel the satisfying feeling of fullness.
  6. FILL UP ON WATER.  Water has zero calories and is a great way to make yourself overcome the sense of hunger and feel full.  Don’t like plain water?  Add a slice of lemon or cucumber to give it a bit of taste.  Avoid high calorie drinks like egg nog.
  7. CHEERS.  If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one glass of red wine.  This will limit your calories and you’ll get some heart health promoting polyphenols like reservatrol as well.
  8. DESSERTS.  If you desire, enjoy a small serving of dessert.  Choose pumpkin over pecan pie and save a few hundred calories.  Eat just the filling to take in fewer additional calories and trans fats.
  9. DON’T SLEEP IT OFF.  At the end of the meal, drink a glass of water and push away from the table to help you realize that you are full.  Get up and move around after dinner.  Help clean up the plates and load the dishwasher.  Take a leisurely walk or play a game that gets you up and moving.  Several hours after the large meal you can engage in some more rigorous activities, like basketball, flag football, or anything else you enjoy. Break a sweat and burn some calories.


As you give thanks on this day, take the time to express gratitude to your body for all it does.  You can honor that gratitude by making decisions that honor your body – like going to the gym or exercising. Perhaps Thanksgiving can mark a new (or renewed) commitment to your body’s health.

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