If you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight, Thanksgiving can be an even scarier holiday than Halloween. Delicious food seems to be everywhere, beckoning with its sweet and savory delectability. “I call it the beginning of the ‘Winter Food Olympics,’” says Marianne Carter, registered dietician and director of the Center for Health Promotion at Delaware State University in Dover. “There are so many food-related holidays in a very short period of time that it’s easy to say you’ll wait till after the New Year and that can be detrimental.”
Yet, despite our worst fears, the average American really puts on one pound during the holiday season, which doesn’t sound like much—unless you gain that extra pound year after year and never take it off. First, remember that Thanksgiving comes once a year and, while healthy eating is important, one meal isn’t going to make or break your diet. That being said, here are a few tips you can use to jump-start the beginning of a healthy and active holiday season.
1) Be realistic. Attempting to start a weight-loss program during this food-obsessed season can be a recipe for failure and frustration. Carter recommends that clients try to maintain, not lose, weight this time of year. “If you can just stay the same, then those two or three pounds that everyone else seems to gain and keep, won’t be an issue,” she says.
2) Don’t go to the meal hungry. “Saving up your calories” for the big feast ensures you’ll be ravenous and consume way too many calories. Carter recommends sticking to your regular feeding schedule and having a light snack before the celebration, like low-fat cheese and crackers or apple slices with peanut butter.
3) Socialize more, eat less. Thanksgiving is more than a celebration of food. It’s an opportunity to catch up with family and friends you may not have seen for a while. Plus making the rounds gets you away from the buffet table and its temptations.
4) Plan a post-meal walk. Before everyone sits down to eat, make it known that you plan to lace up and go for a brisk walk after the feast. You might even start a family tradition. A brisk walk will not only help to burn calories, it will get you away from the table sooner.
5) Schedule a morning-after workout. Commit yourself to an exercise date with a friend or family member. In addition to working off those calories, exercise is a great stress-buster and who can’t use some relief this time of year?
6) Go easy on the libations. Alcohol is doubly disastrous for weight management. Not only is it packed with calories, it encourages us to eat. “Alcohol is an appetite stimulant which is the last thing you need this time of year,” says Carter.
7) Practice portion control. Thanksgiving is one meal no one wants to skip, so why deprive yourself? Instead of seeing how much you can eat, allow yourself bite-sized servings of everything you like—but just enough to satisfy your cravings. “Don’t feel that this is a ‘last supper,’” says Carter. “Getting rid of that all-or-nothing mentality is important.”
8) Stop eating when you’re full. This may seem like a no-brainer, but how does one accomplish this when your stomach is calling for seconds? Eat more slowly. “If you have a death-grip on your fork, you’re not giving your body a chance to feel satiated,” says Carter.
9) Get rid of leftovers. If you’re hosting the event, chances are you’ve cooked more than your guests will consume. Giving them to guests is not only generous—it’s smart. “If you wake up the next morning and the refrigerator is filled with goodies, it’s going to be very challenging,” says Carter.
10) Volunteer to help clean up. Physically removing yourself from the table will prevent you from picking at the leftovers or indulging in second or third helpings. Cleaning up is a great way to show appreciation for the meal—and to burn a few calories.