Tips for Eating Healthy on Thanksgiving: Enjoy the holiday without ruining your diet!

by Anjali @ The Picky Eater on November 17, 2010

The holidays are always my favorite time of the year – you get to take time off work, spend more time with family and friends, and of course – there’s the amazing food that goes along with it! J But for many people, especially those watching their weight, Thanksgiving can be a real challenge. Most people think they have to deprive themselves if they’re going to stay on their diet come Thanksgiving. That’s a myth! You can totally enjoy the wonderful Thanksgiving treats without depriving yourself – if you follow my 10 Tips for healthy eating on Thanksgiving. Hope they are helpful!

1) Don’t go to the Thanksgiving dinner hungry – eat normally all day! A lot of people starve themselves all day to “make room” for Thanksgiving dinner. DON’T do that! You’ll end up overeating like crazy during dinner and you’ll do more damage. During the day, eat small, light meals that keep you feeling satisfied (like fruit and low fat cottage cheese, and egg white omelet, a bowl of oatmeal with nuts, etc.).

2) Plan out your portion sizes – don’t plan to go back for seconds and don’t eat like this is your last meal on earth! First of all, there are always leftovers – so if you couldn’t get enough of those mashed potatoes, you can always take a bit home and eat it the next day. Remember – for all the “goodies” – it’s all about portion control! One taste of pie will not ruin your diet, but three slices will.  So, to avoid the pitfalls, plan to eat all the goodies that you enjoy – just eat them in moderation. For example: fill your plate ¾ with veggies, lean meat, and salad. The remaining ¼ of the plate you can fill with the fun stuff (mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc.). For dessert, I like to take tiny bite-sized portions of each of the options – that way I get to taste a little of everything but I don’t end up eating a 500 calorie slice of pecan pie!

3) Drink plenty of water, and stick to wine/beer over high-calorie cocktails. This one’s a no-brainer. What would you rather have – a 500 calorie cosmo, or a 500 calorie slice of pie? You do the math – to me, the dessert is more worth it J

4) Work out before the big meal! My husband and I usually like to go for a run on Thanksgiving morning. That way, even if we do overdo it a little bit, we have a couple hundred calories to play with on Thanksgiving day .

5) Turkey can be good for you! Just make sure you go skinless (takes away some of the fat/cholesterol), and make sure you go for the white meat – which is the best lean protein. And stick to a 4 oz portion (about the size of a deck of cards)

6) Veggies are definitely good for you Squashes, salad, green beans, potatoes – these are all are great side dishes that have tons of fiber and can fill up your plate without adding too many calories. BUT – sometimes these dishes can end up being calorie laden (e.g. mashed potatoes are usually made with butter & milk, green bean casserole is made with cream of mushroom soup, cheese, milk, and fried onions, and candied yams are loaded with cream, sugar, etc.) – so if you didn’t make the dish and you don’t know exactly how it was cooked, just eat a much smaller portion than you normally would.

7) If you are the Thanksgiving dinner chef, make healthy substitutions without losing any of the flavor! For example: For sweet potatoes, instead of cooking them with tons of sugar/cream, try sprinkling them with a tsp of honey and a bit of brown sugar, and bake them in the oven.  Make your own fresh cranberry sauce rather than using the high-sugar canned version. For stuffing, switch out white bread for whole wheat, or even substitute veggies for bread. For all recipes, substitute skim or 1% milk for whole milk or heavy cream, use light butter vs. regular butter, low fat cheese for regular cheese, 2 egg whites for one egg, low fat sour cream vs. regular… you get the picture J

8 ) Try going vegetarian! There are some really healthy, flavorful, Thanksgiving vegetarian dishes out there. Some of my favorite sources include: Cooking Light, Health.com, and the NY Times Food Section

9) If you do go “rogue” on Thanksgiving, restart your diet IMMEDIATELY the next day. Don’t use the fact that you went overboard one day as an excuse to completely ruin your diet. Create a plan for yourself to get back on track. Even if you ate 2000 calories during the Thanksgiving dinner, if you go back to eating healthy the next day, you won’t end up gaining 5 extra pounds from one meal.

10) Enjoy yourself! At the end of the day, Thanksgiving really is about being with friends and family and spending that time together. Don’t be so stressed out about the food that you aren’t able to enjoy the holiday! Stressing yourself out will only make you feel discouraged and will likely make you end up eating more. Just relax, and if you can’t remember all of these tips –just remember two things: Don’t go back for seconds and thirds, and eat everything in moderation! Happy Thanksgiving!!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara November 17, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Ha! I love the idea of “going rogue.” I plan to do extra gym duty this week and next week 🙂

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Kim-Liv Life November 17, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Excellent tips!!

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Slim November 18, 2010 at 2:29 am

. Really? Wow! Very interesting!

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Damaris @Kitchen Corners November 18, 2010 at 8:18 am

Now this is what I’m talking about. I wish I had read this yesterday when I wrote my “don’t come to me for thanksgiving tips” post.

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Lauren @Smooth Fitness November 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

PickyEater, love the advice and can’t wait to try your spin on sweet potatoes this Thanksgiving. As a picky eater myself, baked macaroni and cheese is always my downfall at the holidays. I’d like to use portion control, but racking up more minutes on the treadmill always feels like an easier compromise! I made a graphic to help readers understand the calories in their favorite Thanksgiving meal foods. I’ve also included statistics on the rise of obesity in America and what can be done to control holiday calories. If you have a minute, please take a look and let me know what you think:Average Thanksgiving Dinner Calories. There’s an embed code listed below the piece if you’d like to share the graphic. I’d love to see the thoughts of other PickyEaters!

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lauren November 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I’m feeling pretty confident about Thanksgiving after practicing at Foodbuzz. Nice meeting you there!

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foodwanderings November 20, 2010 at 9:14 am

Excellent tips for Thanksgiving and any Holiday gatherings! Thanks for thinking about writing such a post.

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Mary @ Bites and Bliss November 21, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Love the tips!! My biggest piece of advice to add is to not overdo it days in a row. There are always leftovers, but it doesnt mean the feast has to go on for days! That’s where the damage comes from.

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anjalim November 21, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Totally agree! That’s very much in line with my tip #9 – it’s totally fine if you overdo it on Thanksgiving but that doesn’t give you a free pass for the rest of the week 🙂 Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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Vishal November 24, 2010 at 11:00 am

I will try my hardest not to “go rogue,” but I can’t make any guarantees.

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anjalim November 24, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Haha – let me know how it goes 🙂

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ArushiS November 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Just saw this link online and was reminded of you. The chef behind these Vegan Thanksgiving dishes is also a recent Cal grad! 🙂 In time for next year: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/a-vegan-chef-dishes-up-thanksgiving/

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anjalim December 3, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Oh nice! Those recipes look really good 🙂 Thanks for sending me this link!

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seo January 31, 2012 at 11:04 am

Howdy! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thank you so much!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater February 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Hi! Thank you so much – it’s so nice to meet you! A few of my favorite sites for health tips are: health.com, vegetariantimes.com, eatingwell.com, cookinglight.com. A couple of my favorite blogs are: 101cookbooks.com, skinnytaste.com, katheats.com. Enjoy! 🙂

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