We all know that Thanksgiving is primarily a food holiday. Yes, we love slowing down from our hectic paces and spending time with family and friends, but what is at the centerpiece of it all? Yes, the turkey and all those side dishes.
"When you really think about the Thanksgiving meal, there is an excess of options," explained Ruth Christner, clinical dietitian at Temple University Hospital. "There are usually six to ten side dishes, filled mostly with carbs, sugar and high fat."
Thanksgiving is also an emotional time, Christner explained. "Everyone brings their favorite dessert and people tend to have emotional attachments to certain dishes. It is both a fun time and a stressful time."
All of this can lead to unconscious overeating so she recommends planning ahead of time eating strategies so you don't end up with that uncomfortably full feeling after Thanksgiving dinner. It is not about depriving yourself; it is about making better choices.
Write out an eating plan. Christner tells her clients to fill out an eating plan sheet, where they jot down what they plan on eating and what types of situations they may encounter. Then she has them close their eyes and visualize success after the meal.
She also recommends squeezing in time for extra exercise and to eat well the rest of the day to offset the extra calories that you know are inevitable.
"Don't starve yourself until dinner. For breakfast, have a protein shake or a Greek yogurt with nuts or fruits. For lunch, eat a salad with some protein."
Set a tone for mindful eating. Do some comparisons of calories counts for all the dishes you expect will be on the table or in the buffet line, so you can pick and choose your calories carefully.
Did you know that a slice of pumpkin pie will cost you less calories than a slice of pecan pie? Or than a glass of white win won't set you back as bad as a margarita? Knowledge is power, Christner said.
Prioritize the food. Decide on what you can have and what you can leave behind. For instance, Christner said, "Go with creamy onions and leave behind the potatoes that you don't like anyway."
Tweak recipes to make healthy and tasty. If you are head chef for Thanksgiving dinner then choose certain dishes to tweak a little so they have less fat. She cautions though that it is still important that the dishes taste good or your guests won't eat them. If you are not chained to the oven this holiday, then plan on bringing a healthy side dish to festivities to ensure you have more low calorie options.
Embrace mindful eating. Slowing down while you chew really reduces the amount you eat, according to Christner. "Don't wolf it down. Enjoy taste and texture and take breaths between each bite."
Distract yourself from going for seconds and thirds.. Focus more on the other parts of this holiday instead of the food. Count the reasons you are thankful, enjoy the chance to be with your loved ones. Christner suggests planning a family outing like a walk collecting leaves or a scavenger hunt or designate yourself as the family photographer for the day.
"The most important thing, she said, "is to have semblance of control, eat mindfully, and set a plan ahead of time. And give yourself a nonfood reward for having a successful day."