A Little Less Gobble, Gobble

How to Avoid Overeating on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is about enjoying a great meal with family, but every year, many of us enjoy it a little too much. We eat ourselves silly and regret it before the last forkful of pumpkin pie even crosses our lips. Of course, you want to celebrate the holiday, and it is important to realize that the average American’s weight increases by just .2 percent over Thanksgiving; an average of .82 pounds. So, the indulgence hardly leads to a total diet derailment and it’s easy to get back on track with healthy eating and hydration in the days after the holiday. But, because we never feel good when we eat way too much, here are seven tips to avoid becoming an overstuffed bird.

Don’t Make Your Thanksgiving Feast Your First Meal

Skipping meals to “save up” your calories for a massive dinner is not a good plan. “Letting yourself get overly hungry in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner can result in decreased blood sugar, irritability and a loss of control when it comes to the meal,” says nutritionist Jennifer Gargiulo, RDN, CSSD. “It’s better to go into the meal not starving, so eating a healthy breakfast like a vegetable omelet that has lean protein and fiber to fill you up is a great way to go.” Eating a balanced meal earlier in the day that is heavy on veggies is a great way to get in some nutrients. Also, being super hungry increases cravings for sugar, which can cause you to overindulge on sweets. And, even if you’re an intermittent faster, breaking your fast with healthy food a few hours ahead of your turkey dinner is a smart way to avoid too much gluttony and gastric distress.

Try Carving the Bird Earlier

We often load up on high-calorie appetizers to tide us over until the turkey is served, so rather than eating Thanksgiving dinner in the evening, shoot for 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Then, if you do overeat, it’s easier to adjust your intake throughout the rest of the day. Eating earlier will also give you more time to properly digest your food before you head to bed, as undigested food when you go to sleep can lead to reflux and poor sleep. Plus, eating late meals can cause weight gain, even if you don’t eat more calories at those meals. If you can’t convince the family to have an early dinner, Gargiulo suggests a low-calorie, high-protein or high-fiber appetizer like a shrimp cocktail or vegetable crudité. “That way, you don’t fill up on heavy appetizers before the meal, and the lean protein and fiber will fill you up so you don’t binge on heavier foods at dinner.”  

Drink Water Over Alcohol

Enjoying a glass of wine or a beer is part of the holiday celebration for many, but don’t forget to properly hydrate. You’ll be eating a lot of high-salt foods that will make your body retain water, so you’ll need extra water to flush some of that sodium from your system and reduce bloating and puffiness. Additionally, water aids digestion and also helps you to feel full; we eat less when we are properly hydrated. And, if you can avoid alcohol until dinner is served, you’ll ward off crazy blood sugar swings by pairing the alcohol with some food. “If you want to have a drink, have one, then have a glass of water,” Gargiulo suggests. “That way, you have more control over your alcohol calories. You can also choose a drink that is not mixed with a high-calorie mixer, like a vodka soda over a vodka cranberry.”

Use a Smaller Plate

Seriously. Take a look at your grandmother’s China, and look at the average dinner plate used today; plates have increased in size dramatically over the years, and it’s not because we need to eat more food. So, grab a salad plate instead. It will help you be mindful of portions and it will force you to evaluate whether or not you really need seconds. Even with the smaller plate, try to fill half with veggies and a quarter with turkey, which is a lean protein. The other quarter is for the carby stuff, like sweet potatoes and stuffing. Eat the veggies first, because they’re good for you, and the fiber will fill you up. When you finish, wait a bit before going back for seconds. “Put your fork down, enjoy the company, have conversation and focus on the people you are spending time with,” Gargiulo says. “This will allow your body time to digest food, feel satiated from the meal and signal whether or not you’re full and really need seconds.” And if you feel full, obviously, you will eat less.

Choose Your Indulgences Wisely

Putting excessive limitations on your food choices on a holiday is a surefire road to frustration, which will lead to you throwing all those pre-set rules out the window. So, pick a few favorites that you can enjoy without guilt, especially since many Thanksgiving treats really only come around once a year. “Focus on the things you don’t have at other times of the year, like stuffing and apple pie,” Gargiulo says. “Don’t waste calories on bread, cheese or other things you can have any time.” On the flip side, you can consciously choose to avoid the foods you don’t think are worth it. If you don’t like gravy, cornbread, or butter-filled green bean casserole, skip them even though they’re Thanksgiving staples so you have room to indulge in the stuff you really like.

Get Moving

A Turkey Trot is a wonderful thing, even if it’s a virtual one, or just a walk, hike or bike with the family on Thanksgiving morning. And movement is just as important once the eating begins! “Try to get outside for some fresh air between dinner and dessert,” Gargiulo says. “Throw the football around, take the kids and the dog for a walk around the block, or at the very least, hang out in a room that isn’t the kitchen.”  Movement helps with digestion, and we tend to snack endlessly when food is in arm’s reach. Step away, and make a concerted effort to only eat when you’re sitting down with a plate in front of you.

Lose the Guilt and Enjoy the Day

A binge does not qualify as a binge unless you do it over and over again, so indulging at Thanksgiving really doesn’t count and won’t derail your weight loss or fitness goals. So, relax! Let go of the stress around eating too much and just listen to your body; choose the foods you like, and stop eating when you’re full. “People feel so much guilt and shame from blowing it that they forget to enjoy the day,” Gargiulo says. “One day is not going to destroy you, any more than eating one salad is going to make you healthy.”