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Enjoy the holiday feast without the guilt -- or the weight gain.

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year, so why not go ahead and splurge? Because gaining weight during the holiday season is a national pastime. Year after year, most of us pack on at least a pound (some gain more) during the holidays -- and keep the extra weight permanently.

But Thanksgiving does not have to sabotage your weight, experts say. With a little know-how, you can satisfy your desire for traditional favorites and still enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving feast. After all, being stuffed is a good idea only if you are a turkey!

Get Active

Create a calorie deficit by exercising to burn off extra calories before you ever indulge in your favorite foods, suggests Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, former president of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

"'Eat less and exercise more' is the winning formula to prevent weight gain during the holidays," Diekman says. "Increase your steps or lengthen your fitness routine the weeks ahead and especially the day of the feast."

Make fitness a family adventure, recommends Susan Finn, PhD, RD, chair of the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition: "Take a walk early in the day and then again after dinner. It is a wonderful way for families to get physical activity and enjoy the holiday together."

Eat Breakfast

While you might think it makes sense to save up calories for the big meal, experts say eating a small meal in the morning can give you more control over your appetite. Start your day with a small but satisfying breakfast -- such as an egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast, or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk -- so you won't be starving when you arrive at the gathering.

"Eating a nutritious meal with protein and fiber before you arrive takes the edge off your appetite and allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices," says Diekman.

Lighten Up

Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or bringing a few dishes to share, make your recipes healthier with less fat, sugar, and calories.

"There is more sugar and fat in most recipes than is needed, and no one will notice the difference if you skim calories by using lower calorie ingredients," says Diekman.

Her suggestions:

  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.

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