Over the years, I have seen that we often eat more than intended over the holidays. It is an easy mistake to make, after all. A little sneak of cookie dough here, a bite of turkey there, a sip of egg nog—you get the picture. And that’s all before the meal starts! Just recently, we received a chart of what an average Thanksgiving dinner looks like calorie-wise, and it wasn’t pretty.
The grand total of that typical Thanksgiving meal comes to 2,517 calories. In reality, most people go up for seconds and also take samples of their favorite pies and bars. And don’t forget all the leftovers that are forced upon you. This means we could be eating many thousands of calories before Monday morning. So what do we do?
For starters, don’t shame yourself. Celebrity chef Charles Mattocks, author of Eat Cheap but Eat Well, says to treat yourself but make sure to do it in moderation. He also suggests preparing several weeks in advance for the food overload during the holiday season. If you’ve worked hard by eating right and exercising before the big event, guilt will not be a factor when you let yourself live a little.
Tips for eating smart at Thanksgiving dinner
Know what’s controlling your hunger pains. Most people like to think their stomach signals hunger, but it’s really their mind. The thought of food, even the smell of it cooking, tricks us into thinking it’s time to eat. Not sure if you are really hungry or just succumbing to your surrounding triggers? Take a few bites and walk away. This will help you figure it out.
Pass on the seconds. On average the body takes 20 minutes to fill up, which is why most healthcare professionals suggest a slower eating pace. If you take a few breaks here and there to talk and drink water, you’ll give your body the time it needs to fill up. If you still feel hungry after 20 minutes, seconds are appropriate—just don’t overdo it.
Make food swaps. Are you a pecan pie enthusiast? Or is your go-to item stuffing smothered in gravy? Too much of either can lead to astronomical amounts of calories. However, swapping in some smart choices for high-calorie items you care less about will help with the overall calorie count. Instead of a gelatin salad, opt for a traditional greens salad. Or maybe bring a low-calorie alternative for that sweet-potato casserole. If you are unsure of what to make, we’ve included some recipes for healthy and tasty side dishes to bring to any party.
Keep the calories for the food. Between the egg nog, wine, and hot chocolate, your overall calorie total can become more than expected. While a glass of one of these items is fine, try sticking to water for the rest of the evening. Not only will the water help fill you up (a good way to avoid those seconds we mentioned earlier), you’ll avoid the 300-plus calories added on by one eight-ounce glass of egg nog!
Taking these extra steps before the festivities will help you and your children keep the weight off. According to a 2010 study by Clinical Medicine and Research, children gain about 1.2 pounds during the holiday break. The number may not be that high, but it adds up. As for those who are overweight? High-BMI adults and children gain significantly more weight over the holidays than those with normal BMIs.
The holidays can be daunting, so just take a deep breath and strategize. Even if you end up adhering to only one of these tips, you’ll feel better and not let depression take over later on.
Now go enjoy that slice of pie.
Typical Thanksgiving Meal
6 ounces of turkey with skin: 299 calories
Traditional stuffing: 310 calories
Dinner roll and butter: 310 calories
Sweet potato casserole: 300 calories
Mashed potatoes and gravy: 140 calories
Green bean casserole: 110 calories
Cranberry sauce: 15 calories
Cheese (2 slices): 200 calories
Pickes/olives: 35 calories
Gelatin salad: 70 calories
Wine (6 ounces): 125 calories
Pecan pie: 503 calories
Whipped cream: 100 calories