Weighing In: How can I avoid blowing my diet on Thanksgiving?

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful for many things: freedom, family, health, success, fortune … but let’s be honest, for most people it’s all about the food! I don’t think there is another day all year that is more focused on the meal than Thanksgiving. It’s also the starting line for the food fest of the holiday season.

    Even the most health conscious individuals find themselves taking on a different mindset once the holiday season begins. We resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going to overeat, overindulge and gain weight during the holidays.

    Research shows that the average person gains two pounds over the holiday season, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider that it only spans one month. Think about it, if you continued to gain two pounds every month for the next year, you would be 24 pounds heavier by the time the next holiday season rolled around. And for many people, the weight gain doesn’t end after the holidays. For some, it can be really hard to get out of that free for all mindset.
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    Believe it or not, this doesn’t have to be the case. The basic Thanksgiving staples aren’t unhealthy by themselves. By making small changes to your Thanksgiving recipes and watching portion sizes, you can avoid the weight gain this holiday season.

    Unless you deep-fry your turkey, it’s healthy centerpiece to your Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is a great source of lean protein. And if you choose white meat and remove the skin, it’s low fat too. If you can’t resist the darker meat, try a combination of white and dark meat so you get some of the taste without all of the fat.

    The real diet traps on Thanksgiving are the sides and desserts. Casseroles and vegetables prepared with lots of added fats have become the traditional fare for this holiday meal. But believe it or not, you can substitute some of the high fat ingredients with healthier ones that don’t sacrifice any of the taste.

    Sweet potatoes, another Thanksgiving staple, are high in fiber, low in fat and filled with healthy vitamins and minerals. But when they are prepared with cream or whole milk they are also high in fat! Try preparing your mashed sweet potatoes with low fat milk or chicken broth to cut down on the added fat. Or bake them in the oven and leave on the skin for even more fiber.

    I just can’t stand to see vegetables swimming in butter or hidden in casseroles under high fat cream soups. Vegetables can be a guaranteed diet saver when prepared healthfully so that the natural flavors come through. They can also be a nice break in an otherwise rich meal. Serve your vegetables steamed or roasted with a little olive oil instead of putting them into those high fat casseroles. You could also mash them or puree them using low-fat milk. Adding a salad course to your Thanksgiving meal is another great way to serve vegetables and feel satisfied while limiting the higher fat side dishes.

    No Thanksgiving meal is complete without stuffing – in fact, I have a hard time eating turkey any time during the year without stuffing. Use whole wheat bread instead of white bread this year and add lots of fruits and vegetables like onions, celery, cranberries and apples to make your stuffing dense and filling while cutting down on the calories.

  • Dessert can be a healthy treat. Grilled fruits like apples, peaches and pears topped with low-fat frozen yogurt are a great alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving desserts. Can’t bear the thought of Thanksgiving without pie? The nutty flavor of a whole-wheat pie crust goes really well with the traditional Thanksgiving pies like pumpkin, pecan and apple and it’s high in fiber. Substituting low-fat frozen yogurt for ice cream cuts some of the fat so you can still indulge in your favorite dessert without feeling guilty.
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    Are you going somewhere else for Thanksgiving? The best way to ensure there are healthy options on the table is to bring them your self. Call your hostess and offer to bring a healthy side dish or dessert.

    Finally, go for a walk after dinner or sign up to participate in your local turkey trot Thanksgiving morning. Most people gather around the television set to watch football after the Thanksgiving meal. Instead of raiding the fridge for a post-meal treat during halftime, organize a friendly game of tag football. The bottom line is, get up and get moving.
Published On: November 12, 2007