We all love to indulge on Thanksgiving, but have you ever given any thought to how many calories you need to burn for that extra helping of turkey or that piece of pumpkin pie?
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season often sidetrack us from eating right and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Of all the holidays we celebrate, which one is almost completely centered on food? Thanksgiving, of course! Beginning with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and later the football games on TV and socializing. Family gatherings and activities are all focused on the main event – eating! For many, Thanksgiving signals the inevitable holiday weight gain, 5-7 pounds on average.
But Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a time when the scale is not tipping in your favor. By making smart decisions leading up to Thanksgiving day and on Thanksgiving day you can ward off weight gain.
Thanksgiving Weight Loss Tips
1. Create New Traditions
Encourage your family to start a new Thanksgiving tradition such as exercising before the big meal. Some good group activities include backyard soccer, softball, Frisbee or most cities have an annual 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.
Kids might enjoy playing tag, rollerblading, or going for a family bike ride. If your family doesn’t share your enthusiasm for exercise, you can still set aside time for your own workout before meeting up with your family. Not only will your new tradition burn some calories, but it will help remind you to eat in moderation later in the day.
Other new traditions could include post-meal activity instead of lounging on the couch or swapping out unhealthy food and alcohol for healthier options.
2. Eat a Protein-Packed Breakfast
Protein functions as a natural appetite suppressor. Instead of skipping breakfast entirely, prepare a high-protein breakfast to help you manage your appetite later in the day. Spinach omelets, hardboiled eggs, cottage cheese with fruit, and protein drinks can all be good choices.
3. Avoid Alcohol
When it comes to the holidays we know that avoiding alcohol is one of the last things you want to hear. For some, it’s the crutch the helps us survive family gatherings and for others, it’s part of our tradition such as indulging in certain alcoholic beverages on certain holidays.
But it’s well-known among dieters that alcohol can add hundreds of empty calories to one’s daily intake. If it’s customary in your family to drink alcohol during Thanksgiving, consider getting a club soda with a splash of lemon or lime instead.
If you absolutely must indulge in alcohol then opt for healthier options. Make a 45 calorie cocktail such as a “Fruity Tooty Spritzer” which is 1 cup sparkling water, 2 ounces vodka, 1 tablespoon grapefruit juice and 6 raspberries then garnish with mint leaves. Or drink a vodka tonic which is a classic drink that is low in calories.
4. Bake Single-Serving Desserts or Healthy Dessert Options
The turkey may take center stage on the Thanksgiving table, but the desserts aren’t usually too far behind. Instead of lining up whole pies and cakes on the buffet table this holiday, consider baking an assortment of single-serving selections. Every diner can choose his or her own mini pie or tort.
Single-serving desserts can help you limit your calories and stay on your customized diet while still feeling satisfied. While we recommend healthy options, Brit+Co has a great article on 16 Sweet Single-Serving Dessert Recipes for One.
Here are a few of our favorite healthy holiday dessert options:
5. Swap Out Traditional Foods for Healthier Options
The average Thanksgiving dinner range from 3,000 to 4,500 calories. For reference, 4,500 calories are the same as 14 slices of pumpkin pie.
But swapping out more traditional foods for healthier ones, you can drop these numbers significantly while also getting more vital nutrients out of your meal. Here are a few tips on how to make your meal healthier but still delicious.
- Add a salad to your meal to fill up on healthy veggies before indulging on the more calorie-laden options.
- Switch to cauliflower mashed potatoes instead of regular (honestly, the recipe we have tastes great and a lot of us think they taste even better than traditional mashed potatoes) – check out our mashed cauliflower recipe
- Make a healthy version of stuffing (we know this one can be tougher to embrace since stuffing is a staple of Thanksgiving dinner but it’s also a food item packed with carbs) – check out our Calla oopsie rolling stuffing recipe
- Swap out traditional Thanksgiving meal items for healthier options or eliminating unhealthy options such as eliminating gravy or dessert or swapping out pre-meal snacks with veggies and healthy ranch dressing made from Hidden Valley Ranch packet and plain Greek yogurt
6. Control Your Portions
Know the correct portion sizes of different food options and if possible eat your Thanksgiving meal off a smaller plate. Based on a Rosen Report study in 2016, this works for helping to control portion sizes except when someone is really hungry (so make sure you have a pre-Thanksgiving meal snack).
This infographic from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center provides portion sizes for popular Thanksgiving meal items.
7. Eat Slow & Listen to Your Body
Until food gets into the stomach and into the gut your body doesn’t release satiety hormones which feedback into the brain telling us we’re full. Huffington Post did research to determine how long it takes to feel full. According to their research, it can take between 5 and 20 minutes to feel full when eating.
Curb overeating by eating slow and listening to your body. Put your fork down between bites. Engage in conversation to increase the time between bites. And stop eating when you feel slightly satisfied. Focus on your family and friends instead of the food.
8. Drink Lots of Water
About 60% of the body is water so it’s important to hydrate with a sufficient amount of water daily. But a lot of times on holiday water takes a back burner to coffee, alcohol, and food. It’s even more important for anyone trying to lose weight to increase their water intake on holidays. Drinking lots of water helps you feel full so you don’t actually stuff yourself full.
9. Bring Your Own Food
If you are attending Thanksgiving at someone else house where you will have no control over the food served, bring your own healthy Thanksgiving meal. Let your host know ahead of time you are trying to lose weight and are bringing a healthy meal that will help you continue to lose weight on Thanksgiving.
10. Embrace Fasting
We’re not suggesting you fast on Thanksgiving but try doing a 24-hour fast the day after Thanksgiving.
Fasting is one of the world’s oldest traditions; it’s been practiced by people of all races and religions for centuries. It makes a lot of sense, as there are so many benefits to fasting, one of the most important beings that it will really jump start your fat-loss process.
We recommend starting your fast Thanksgiving evening. If you finish dinner and dessert by 7 pm then start your fast that evening at 8 pm. By the time you wake up on Friday, you’ve already completed a huge section of your fast. For instance, you wake up at 8 am then you’re already halfway done with your fast.
While you can’t eat during this time, make sure to drink lots of water and you can also enjoy herbal teas. Stay away from everything else, including coffee and supplements; you simply want to give your body a day of rest.
You can also opt to fast a day or two leading into Thanksgiving but we recommend after instead of before.
What to Do After Thanksgiving to Lose Weight
Thanksgiving has passed and while you had great intentions of being healthy, eating small portions, skipping dessert or limiting alcohol you weren’t as good with sticking to healthy options. That’s ok. Don’t panic. That small weight increase isn’t body fat. It’s pretty much impossible to gain even one pound of fat from a day of overeating. And no, binging on Thanksgiving dinner didn’t slow down your metabolism.
We have some great tips to get back on the weight loss journey immediately following Thanksgiving.
- Fast starting the evening of Thanksgiving for a 24-hour period
- Get active starting the morning of Black Friday (below is an infographic with some fun exercises that you can do to burn off your Thanksgiving calories)
- Get back on track with a healthy diet – when it comes to losing weight, a healthy diet program is going to help you lose more weight than exercising
- Stick to lean proteins
- Reduce processed, starchy carbohydrate intake
- Eat low-glycemic fruits and vegetables such as apples, broccoli, onions, oranges, peppers
- Limit sugar
- If you hosted Thanksgiving, get rid of all unhealthy leftovers
- Indulge in the healthy leftovers such as turkey, cauliflower mashed potatoes and salad
It takes days of overeating for accumulated body fat to show up as measurable weight gain. So don’t panic if you deviated from your weight loss diet on Thanksgiving. The important thing is to get back on track as soon as possible. If you don’t get back on track with healthy eating and exercise you could easily pack on a few pounds of fat during the holiday season.
If it’s easy for you to get right back on track then one day of indulging in delicious holiday food isn’t going to really set back your weight loss efforts. If you are the type who struggles to get back on track after eating outside your diet plan then it’s important to stick to your diet even on holidays. I know a lot of people who allow one indulgent day to end up spiraling into a month of indulgence. If this is you, do your best to stick to your healthy diet on Thanksgiving to make sure you don’t derail your weight loss progress.
About the Author – Suzanne Gil, M.D.
Dr. Suzanne Gil obtained advanced training in bariatric (weight loss medicine) and opened Calla Slimspa Medical Weight Loss Center located in Orlando, FL in 2008 when the need for weight-related assistance became a huge priority. She is a member of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP) and dedicates 100% of her professional time to helping as many people as possible achieve their weight loss goals and improve their health. She completed her residency at Orlando Regional Medical Center and is a Board Certified Pediatrician.