Nutritionists estimate that the average Thanksgiving meal ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 calories. If our daily needs should not exceed between 1,600 to 2,400 calories, it is not surprising that people complain about weight gain during the holidays. However, it is not the meal’s core that makes you put on the pounds, but rather the nice trimmings and goodies that come with it.

It happens every year to too many of us. We spend the summer and early autumn getting fit, losing weight, until we feel well and look good. Only to be faced with darker evenings, colder weather which tends to keep us indoors more, two giant holidays which culminate in New Year’s Eve.

We wake up on January 1st feeling guilty and unwell, and full of pious resolutions. The cycle repeats itself year after year.

Apart from the health risks in having a fluctuating bodyweight – some studies have indicated that a constant bodyweight is better for good long-term health, this never-ending battle is stressful, and may have an impact on our mental well-being.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth(By Jennie A. Brownscombe – 1914)

The following tips may help slow down, and even prevent the seemingly inevitable weight gain that occurs during the coming months, starting with Thanksgiving:

  • Breakfast – the worst thing to do is to skip breakfast and arrive at your feast later on in the day starving. When humans are super hungry, they tend to eat considerably more than those who are not.
  • Chewing – digestion starts when we chew. The longer you spend chewing the fewer calories you will be consuming per minute. You will feel full more rapidly, compared to gulping everything down quickly.
  • Turkey skin – avoid it. Turkey skin has considerably more calories than the breast. Turkey skin is very high in fat.

    Turkey skin has a lot of fat and calories

  • Hidden fats – supposedly healthy low fat foods, such as some vegetables, carrots, soups, or mashed potatoes may have been prepared with lots of butter and are laden with fat. If you are cooking, try putting a little less than you did last year. If you were not involved in their preparation, try to find out (discreetly) how they were prepared. If they are high it fat, go easy on them.
  • Side dishes – be careful. They may seem like delicious afterthoughts that you can slip in with no significance; unfortunately, many are high in calories and are easy to eat fast. The more lean turkey and vegetables you can eat the better.
  • Mashed potatoes with cauliflower – if you add cauliflower before you mash so that it makes up 25% of the whole mash, most people won’t notice it. Cauliflower has fewer calories than potato.
  • Physical activity – try going for a walk during the morning of Thanksgiving before your meal. If you limit your meal to 2,500 calories, the walk might represent 10% of that. Compare that to consuming from 3,000 to 5,000 calories in one sitting and not walking at all.
  • Eggs – egg white is practically pure protein while the yolk is virtually pure fat. Bear that in mind when you are preparing foods
  • If you love it, eat it – if you really crave something, have it, but not too much. Portion control is the key, rather than virtuous abstention (which rarely works for long).
  • How many dinners? – in the USA the majority of people will sit down for more than one big meal during Thanksgiving. Be careful. Two huge meals will push your calorie intake for the day off the charts. Some people find that eating some foods at one sitting, and then the other foods during the next meal works better than trying to hold back on everything.
  • Fluid intake – to prevent dehydration, remember that alcoholic drinks, sugary sodas or coffee are no good – drink plenty of water. Sugary drinks are laden with ’empty calories’, while water is calorie-free.
  • Seconds – if you are trying to watch your calories, don’t have a second helping. You should not be hungry if you have chewed carefully, consumed plenty of water, and selected a good quantity of low calorie foods. If you are an invited guest, your hosts may pressure you into having some more. Be polite, but firm; simply say “That was really delicious. But, no thank you.”
  • Finger foods – avoid them unless you are 100% sure they are healthy, low calorie foods. Finger foods tend to be fattening during the holidays; they can be eaten rapidly, increasing the rate at which you are consuming calories. Foods that require a knife and fork take longer to eat.
  • Be realistic – this is a festive occasion; a time for celebration. It is a feast. It may be more practical and effective if you try to focus on maintaining your body weight, rather than trying to lose weight on this occasion. If you eat carefully, do some exercise, and watch the size of your portions, there is a much better chance of success.
  • If you want to do what you like – some people can get away with it, but it requires a certain amount of discipline. I have known people who will do two hours that morning on a treadmill, elliptical machine (cross-trainer), or even run a semi-marathon. When the meal arrives, they eat to their heart’s content and do not put on any weight. If you plan to do this, make sure you are fit enough. If you are not sure, check with your doctor.

Written by Christian Nordqvist