Overeating on Thanksgiving is basically a universal truth. In addition to looking forward to spending time with loved ones, many of us literally look forward to the food, likely due to the fact that the Thanksgiving feast often includes dishes you may not eat all that frequently the rest of the year. So, when the day comes, it can be tough not to overdo it simply because you want to try a little bit of everything at the table. If you’re actively trying to lose weight or watch your diet, this meal can be treacherous. Combine Thanksgiving overindulgences with a similarly large Christmas meal in December and it’s no wonder so many of us set out to lose weight in January.
To avoid the pitfalls of Thanksgiving overeating, Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says it’s important to have a game plan. “What we want to do is attempt to make the holidays more about the ‘fest’ and less about the ‘feast,’” she said. “One way to do this is to think of your appetite as an expense account. Begin the meal by asking yourself how much of your appetite you plan to spend on appetizers and desserts. If a certain special dessert is priority one, you should definitely plan on saving room for it,” Pierce said. “Doing this can help you avoid overdoing it on the meal, and will help you prevent the dreaded ‘food coma,’” she added. “Second, don’t be afraid to be a bit of a food snob,” Pierce said. “Survey what foods are available, then pick your favorites and stick to them. Try to only eat foods you think are just fabulous, that way you don’t fill up on things that are just okay,” she said. “Also, remember that if you pick something that looks better than it tastes, it’s okay to simply stop eating it,” she added.
Pierce also warns of the dangers of ‘obligatory eating.’ “It can be tough to say no to a dish that someone worked hard to prepare, but you should avoid trying to eat something you don’t really want simply to please others,” she said. “If you just can’t pass on the dish, try taking a very small portion to try, or try asking the person for the recipe. This way, the person is still left feeling flattered,” she added. “Another important strategy is to try to be the last person to finish eating. Eat slowly, and savor those foods you’ve waited so patiently for. Remember, it takes 15-20 minutes for the brain to receive fullness cues from your body.”
Pierce says if you’re the one preparing foods, there are some options to consider to help make the meal a bit healthier. “Consider using sharp cheddar or feta cheese instead of milder cheeses, that way you can use less of it without losing flavor,” she said. “Also, you can cut sugar out of many recipes and replace it with cinnamon, vanilla or other sweet-tasting spices. For desserts, try omitting either the top or bottom crust of the dish. You also can try using applesauce or canned pumpkin as replacements for fats, and use plain Greek yogurt for dips,” she explained.
Ultimately, Pierce says it’s beneficial to steer attention away from the feast if you can. “Try looking at Thanksgiving more as time with your family than a massive meal,” she said. “Try spending time playing games, enjoying each other’s company or taking walks together. This puts the emphasis on quality time, rather than time spent overeating or taking post-feast naps,” she added.