From the fat-laden gravy to the creamy pumpkin pie, even looking at the Thanksgiving dinner table is enough to make you loosen your belt a few notches. Then, there’s the competition: Who’s going to get the turkey leg or lay claim to the most mashed potatoes? Who’s going to finish fast enough to be the first one back for seconds? I know I’m not the only one who has experienced a “get-your-hands-off-my-dinner-roll” moment during Thanksgiving.
Considering all of that, it’s no shock that the average American consumes about 4,500 calories and up to 229 grams of fat1 on Thanksgiving! So, how can you stop yourself from gaining more than a pound in a day? Here are 9 tips you can lean on for this holiday season, so the bird is the only one stuffed at the end of the day.
1. Get a good head start. Start your day with a healthy breakfast, such as two eggs and whole-grain toast and a side of mixed greens, or any combination that’s high in protein and fiber.2 This will create a foundation of satiety and make you less likely to inhale the appetizers. Since you won’t be starving, you’ll be able to more likely to enjoy the main meal in moderation!
2. Don’t go overboard on appetizers. It’s easy to consume 1,500 calories before the turkey even hits the table. Instead of skipping the baked brie altogether, fill most of your plate with vegetables and healthier choices, then leave just a little room for a taste of the indulgent snack. An average serving of dip or cheese is one ounce, roughly the size of your two thumbs.3
3. Trick your brain. The average plate is 14 inches wide, and we tend to finish 98% of the food on our plate.4 No wonder it’s easy to eat too much on Thanksgiving. To trick your brain into thinking you’ve eaten enough, use a smaller plate and/or fill half a normal plate with salad. (Just go easy on the dressing.)
4. Enjoy your favorites. One of the best things about Thanksgiving is the memories and traditions of the day. Don’t limit yourself from enjoying your favorite dishes, but only have a small scoop of those that are less healthy. According to Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, it only takes four bites for your nostalgia of a food to reach its peak.5
5. Get a better bird. Most Thanksgiving turkeys are about as succulent as woodchips. No wonder we cover them up with gravy, cranberry sauce, or stuffing. Instead, find a recipe that results in a more flavorful turkey, or cook a different protein—ham, fish, or chicken—that you’ll enjoy on its own, and have only moderate portions of the heavy sides. If you’re not hosting, consider skipping the bird altogether if you feel the need to smother it in sauce.
6. Improve traditions. Hosting? Take some of the pressure off yourself and ask guests to bring a healthy side dish or dessert. If you think they might be stumped, you could even provide them with a list of healthy side dishes they could make. Going to someone else’s home? Bring a healthy side dish of your own! They’ll appreciate it way more than the gift of cellulite.
7. Don’t get drunk. Limit yourself to one drink before or during dinner and one drink after dinner. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your craving for salt and may set you up to eat 30% more than you intended.6 Get drunk at dinner and all your inhibitions will be down by the time dessert comes. Two pieces of pie, a couple of cookies, a scoop of ice cream later . . . and you’ll need a forklift to get you off the couch and a cab to take you home. Don’t be that person.
8. Forgive yourself. Did you read this and still overeat? Don’t keep slipping down the slope. Get up and encourage someone to take a walk with you. If it’s too cold for a walk, break out a game of Twister® or fire up the Wii® or Xbox® Kinect®! Getting moving will ease some of your guilt and also start the digestion process.7
9. Remember why you’re there. Between the football game and your sister’s amazing pumpkin pie, take a moment to pause and reflect on what you’re thankful for this year. As tasty as the dishes are, nothing compares to the people we share it with.