by Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD
With Thanksgiving Day right around the corner, you may have begun considering what you’re going to contribute to the feast. As we all know, the day is famous for its indulgences and, for many, an annual ritual to overeat and then lounge lazily for the rest of the day watching football games, napping, and spending time with family and friends.
This holiday is a little bit of a challenge for highly health conscious individuals. After all, if you show up to the feast with a dressing-free salad and whole wheat dry rolls, you might be turned away at the door. And, honestly, a once-per-year day of overeating most likely isn’t going to sabotage your diet plans, though sustaining this eating behavior throughout the holiday season could lead to a few extra unwanted pounds to lose in the New Year.
The good news is that there are some simple changes you can make to your Thanksgiving plans this year that will save you some calories (without sacrificing taste or your reputation) and add some fun to your holiday.
- Fit it all on one plate. Prevent over-stuffing yourself by fitting your Thanksgiving feast all on one plate (This works best if you don't use an oversized plate filled to the brim). Sample small portions and avoid going back for seconds. If you're tempted to return for more, give yourself 20 minutes (about how long it takes to feel full) first.
- Eat slowly. Thanksgiving foods are likely to be richer and more filling than your everyday fare, so eat slowly and savor every bite.
- Enjoy the company of family and friends. Socialize during your meal and festivities. You can't eat and talk at the same time -- so the more conversation you enjoy, the less you’ll eat.
- Get moving. Sign up for a local Turkey Trot 5K or 10K and spend your Thanksgiving morning getting some exercise. Not only will you burn some calories, but you'll also enjoy some holiday fun!
- Make some easy Turkey day substitutions. For example:
- Eat the white meat without the skin instead of the dark meat with skin and shave off 190 calories.
Turkey — white meat, no skin (6oz): 180 calories, 3g fat
Turkey - dark meat, with skin (6oz): 370 calories, 20g fat
- Make your own cranberries rather than the jellied stuff and save 120 calories.
Cranberries (boiled in sugar) (1/2 cup): 100 calories, <1g fat
Jellied cranberry sauce (1/2 cup): 220 calories, <1g fat
- Cut the marshmallows on your sweet potatoes and instead add a little bit of spice to save 100 calories.
Sweet potatoes, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg (2/3c): 200 calories, 3g fat
Candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows (2/3c): 300 calories, 3g fat
- Skip the green bean casserole and instead just steam some green beans and cut 110 calories.
Steamed green beans (1/2C): 20 calories, <1g fat
Green bean casserole (1/2C): 130 calories, 7 g fat
- Choose pumpkin pie over the pecan pie for dessert and decrease your caloric intake by 160 calories.
Pumpkin pie (1/8 pie): 340 calories, 15g fat
Pecan pie (1/8 pie): 500 calories, 25g fat
- Add it all up and you find that you've saved yourself 650 calories.
More Healthy Total: 850 calories, 23g fat
Less Healthy Total: 1500 calories, 56g fat
There are 3,500 calories in a pound, so if you calculate the calorie savings from these substitutions, you will find that you saved yourself nearly ¼ pound weight gain! That’s not including the other four other tips above that will help you eat less and move more and save yourself from holiday weight gain. Try adding a few new traditions to your holiday this year with some healthy Thanksgiving Day recipes.
This article originally appeared in our Ask the Expert blog.