Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which is a family-, fun-, and food-filled holiday for many people. If you’re on a diet or have a weight-loss goal in mind, however, Thanksgiving is probably causing you more anxiety than excitement. You may be wondering, How am I supposed to stick to my diet or eat healthy on Thanksgiving? While the holiday is centered around eating delicious and rich food—there’s the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberries, the candied yams, and, of course, the pie!—the day does not have to completely sabotage your diet or weight loss progress. I, for one, have been adhering to my meal plan and training program for the past three weeks and have lost three pounds; I’m not about to let one day set me back.
But if you think I’ll be eating out of Tupperware while everyone else is indulging in turkey and all the trimmings, you’re out of your mind. The key to eating healthy on Thanksgiving is to be prepared, watch your portions, and choose the healthiest options possible while allowing yourself a little room for your favorite Thanksgiving dishes. It’s also important to remember that it’s just ONE day… and ONE meal. You’re allowed to enjoy the holiday and the food—one day of eating a high-calorie, high-fat meal is not going to set you back to the weight-loss starting line. Just don’t treat the day as a complete free-for-all and indulge in everything that comes into sight. Thanksgiving dinner is just that: dinner. It’s one meal. Keep that in mind as when you’re building your dinner plate to keep your portions in check. (How much food is typically on your dinner plate? How much of your plate is filled with protein? How much of your plate is filled with vegetables and starches?)
There is a way to have a healthy Thanksgiving dinner—and eat it too! Below are some simple strategies you can implement to have a healthier Thanksgiving (and avoid feeling like a stuffed turkey come Friday morning!)
8 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving
1. Eat Breakfast
You may think skipping breakfast will save up calories for the big meal, but it will most likely end up costing you even more calories in the end. If you go all day without eating, especially skipping your first meal of the day, you’ll be ravenous come dinnertime and more likely to overindulge in all the tempting dishes. Eating a balanced and nutritious breakfast with protein and fiber will fill you up and keep you full for a decent amount of time—not to mention that eating first thing in the morning will fire up your metabolism. Eating breakfast will also help regulate your blood sugar levels and give you more control over your appetite—and more willpower at the dinner table. If you really want to save up some calories, just have a lighter breakfast. For instance, I’m planning to have just a 1/3 cup of oatmeal with my eggs instead of ½ cup to make room for all the carbs in the stuffing.
Plan to work out first thing Thanksgiving morning, not only to help burn off some of the extra calories you’ll be eating but to get yourself in a healthy frame of mind. If this means getting up a little earlier, then make the sacrifice—you won’t regret it! Aim to work out for at least 45 minutes, or try a 20-minute HIIT workout to blast major calories fast. Just remember: this doesn’t give you permission to pig out later. Chances are you probably didn’t burn nearly enough calories to cancel out all of the heavy, fat-laden dishes and desserts you’ll be consuming.
3. Choose Your Indulgences Beforehand
We all have our favorite Thanksgiving foods that we simply can’t do without—it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them! For me, it’s my mom’s stuffing and pumpkin pie. Choose two to three of your favorite Thanksgiving foods that you would like to (or absolutely must) indulge in. Knowing which foods you’re going to splurge on in advance can keep you from filling your plate with the other less-desirable high-calorie fare, which you and your waistline can certainly do without.
4. Prepare Healthy Options
Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a dish or two, there’s plenty of room on the Thanksgiving table for healthy dishes like roasted Brussels sprouts and yams, a colorful salad, and even steamed vegetables like corn, broccoli, and green beans (be sure to stay away from that green-bean casserole!). And even if most of the guests pass on the healthy items you made, don’t take offense: there’s simply more for you!
Prepare a healthy appetizer and dessert while you’re at it too, especially since these items tend to have more calories than the turkey! Some healthy Thanksgiving appetizers include shrimp cocktail, crudités and hummus, and stuffed figs (roasted figs stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey–yum!). For dessert, I’m giving this healthy no-bake pumpkin pie recipe a try. It’s made with Greek yogurt, sugar-free pudding mix and pumpkin puree. (I’ll let you know how it turns out!) You can also make this apple-walnut-ginger galette from SELF magazine. I made it twice before and it’s delicious!
5. Watch Your Portions
Eating healthy on Thanksgiving is really all about moderation. You only get to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner once a year, so don’t feel like you can’t enjoy your favorite holiday foods—just go easy on the portion sizes. Fill most of your plate with vegetables and lean white turkey breast meat, then go back to your must-have items and serve yourself a small scoop of each. Take your time when you eat and truly savor the flavors. If you feel tempted to go back for more, wait 20 minutes first. You’ll likely start to feel full within that timeframe. It’s when you go back for seconds without allowing yourself enough time to digest your food that you end up overeating and feeling as stuffed and bloated as the turkey—not attractive or pleasant!
6. Help Clean Up
If you’re a guest, offer to help the host clean up after dinner. This will get you up and moving (and burning some calories) as well as keep you from picking at any of the leftovers.
7. Get Active
Depending on your Thanksgiving plans (and the weather), try to go for a walk before or after dinner. Invite your family members to join you—the holiday is about spending time with your loved ones, after all. If you have nieces and nephews, offer to play a game of tag with them in the backyard. The more active you are the more calories you’ll burn and the more distracted you’ll be from wanting to devour all of the delicious appetizers and desserts that are circulating around the house.
8. Skip the Leftovers
The major problem with Thanksgiving dinner is all of the leftovers. Seeing those candied yams or pie in the fridge the day (or three) after Thanksgiving can be tempting, especially since you don’t want the delicious food to go to waste. While the leftover turkey and vegetables are healthy and safe to keep, get rid of the unhealthy dishes to avoid the temptation and potential extra pounds. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, stock up on Ziploc® bags or cheap Tupperware containers so you can send guests home with the leftovers. If you’re a guest, kindly pass on taking home any items other than turkey and vegetables. While one Thanksgiving dinner won’t destroy your diet or weight loss progress, eating multiple Thanksgiving dinners certainly will. Remember: It’s only ONE day.
I hope you find these healthy eating tips helpful. Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, everyone!
What is the one Thanksgiving dish you can’t resist? Do you have any healthy eating tips or healthy Thanksgiving recipes? Share them in the comments!