Avoiding Thanksgiving Weight Gain

Sure, Thanksgiving is about eating, but that doesn't mean you have to let the meal wreck your weight loss goals. Follow these tips from Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, in Part 2 of our three-part series.

3 min read

Dressing, pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole ... the annual Thanksgiving bounty is something we all look forward to. But if you can't afford the traditional holiday weight gain, this time of the year can leave you running scared. With a few simple changes to your usual approach, you can enjoy the feast without wrapping yourself in those extra pounds.

Thanksgiving is the official start of the holiday party season, and restrictive diets can make this time of the year grueling. But it's also the time when most of us gain an extra 1-3 pounds that, unfortunately, tend to become permanent baggage.

You can feast on the food, but this year arm yourself with a plan that will help whittle down the usual 3,500-calorie meal to a more reasonable indulgence. Think ahead to Jan. 1 when you will delight in seeing the needle on the scale right where you left it in November.

Choose a few of the useful weight control-tips below to help you maintain your weight while still enjoying the good cheer and delicious food on Thanksgiving day and the rest of the holiday season.

  • Wear a tight-fitting outfit. This will make you less likely to overeat because it becomes too uncomfortable.
  • Don't arrive starving. Eat before the big feast. A small healthful meal with lots of fiber (oatmeal, whole-grain sandwich, salad with beans) keeps you feeling full until dinner.
  • Make time for exercise every day, especially on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Establish some ground rules in advance of the meal that allow you to indulge but not pig out -- for example, only one sliver of dessert.
  • Buddy up with someone who is also trying to keep his or her weight in check.
  • Keep a food journal and write down everything that you eat. This is an incredibly powerful tool, especially when you are tempted to overeat.
  • Start a new family tradition. Take a bike ride, go for a hike, or play tennis Thanksgiving morning.
  • Enjoy higher-calorie food in smaller portions.
  • Don't eat food just because it is there. Save your calories for the foods you love.
  • Distance yourself from the hors d'oeuvre table.
  • Munch on fresh fruits and veggies instead of high fat appetizers.
  • Scan the buffet and carefully choose the foods you love. If they are high in calories like the gravy, just take a smaller portion. Take larger portions of the simply prepared foods such as baked sweet potatoes, steamed vegetables, and skinless white meat of turkey.
  • Limit yourself to one plate of food, no second helpings.
  • Eat slowly and savor every bite. Give the food a chance to let you feel the satisfying feeling of fullness.
  • Eat what you like, just eat a little less of it.
  • Enjoy a small serving of dessert. Choose pumpkin over pecan pie and save a few hundred calories. Eat just the filling to take in fewer additional calories and limit trans fats.
  • If you drink alcohol, save those calories for a glass of wine with the meal.
  • Skip the high-calorie, high-fat eggnog this year.
  • At the end of the meal, drink a glass of water and push away from the table to help you realize that you are full.
  • Follow the large meal with a leisurely walk.

Be realistic -- don't try to lose weight during the holidays, just aim to maintain your current weight. And if you plan on overindulging, bank some calories early in the week and get more physical activity before and after Thanksgiving Day to make up for it.