Thankful and Healthful

by Allison Hall

thanksgiving turkeyFor Americans, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the hectic holiday season. Each family may have different traditions such as each person saying something they’re thankful for or playing football together in the backyard, but every table has one thing in common: a big meal!

After the turkey day leftovers have been devoured, next comes the endless appetizers at holiday parties, and by then it’s no wonder why everyone’s New Year’s resolution is to lose a few pounds!

In fact, a study of 94 participants found students gained an average of 0.5 kg (about 1.1 lbs) over the course University of Oklahoma’s Thanksgiving break.1 While a single pound doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about, research suggests weight gained during the holiday season is not lost later on in the year.2 After a few years, those extra pounds can easily stack up…


While weight gain during this time of year may seem inevitable, it doesn’t have to be that way. Losing weight is probably not the most realistic goal when pumpkin pie is on the table, but we do have some tips to help you maintain your current weight while still enjoying the holiday:

To Fast or Eat Breakfast? Though it may seem like you’re saving your calories for later in the day, skipping meals before the big dinner is not likely to help your cause. Especially if you are unaccustomed to fasting, it may be hard to resist munching mindlessly as you cook. Even if you do manage to stay strong up until dinner, it’s much easier to justify that third scoop of mashed potatoes as a “reward” and defeat your original purpose.

Be Mindful. So many dishes, so much temptation to eat until you are ready to burst! This Thanksgiving, try eating until you are satisfied rather than stuffed. Take small bites of all your favorites but savor and chew slowly. It takes your brain a good 20 minutes to recognize your are full, so don’t inhale that delicious meal. Put away the “turkey eating pants” and enjoy every bite.

One and Done. You may not have control of the menu for Thanksgiving dinner, but if you can limit the variety for dishes from the same food group. If you had to choose between stuffing or rolls, which would you want? You probably don’t need both, so stick with your favorite. Remember, you can always take charge of what you put on your plate. And don’t forget about some veggies!

mini pecan pie

Personal Pies. The dessert spread can be so enticing that you end up eating a slice of every pie. Using a cupcake tin to make mini-pies can help keep portions in check. If you only make enough personal pies for every guest, there is no temptation to eat more than your fair share.

A Batch from Scratch. As with any other meal, making something at home is going to be healthier than the store or restaurant version. Try not to take the premade shortcuts with things like pie crusts and cranberry sauce. Not only will you sweat a little more in the kitchen, you’ll be able to make healthy substitutions that can provide more nutrients with less calories. Plus, everything tastes better with fresh ingredients!

A Healthy Break with Tradition. It may be sacrilegious to modify grandma’s green bean casserole recipe, but for the adventurous, healthy chefs out there check out these healthier side dish swaps:


  1. Hull et al. The effect of the Thanksgiving Holiday on weight gain. Nutrition Journal 2006; 5:29. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-5-29.
  2. Yanovski et al. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. New England Journal of Medicine 2000; 342:861-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200003233421206
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