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Avoiding the Food Coma: 9 Tips for an Unstuffed Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving meal provides a bountiful feast of favorite foods—not to mention about 4,500 calories and 230 grams of fat, according to the Calorie Control Council.

A dinner of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, pies with whipped cream, and other seasonal favorites can add up to the feeling of being as stuffed as the bird. It can also mean becoming a bit of a butterball yourself, as the average American gains about a pound at holiday time.

But the holiday doesn’t have to sabotage your efforts to maintain a healthy weight. Experts say with a little advanced planning, you can have your cake (or pumpkin pie, in this case) and your good health, too:

  1. Eat during the day: It might seem to make sense to save up the calories for the big meal, but eating a nutritious breakfast and lunch that includes protein and fiber will take the edge off of hunger and prevent you from overeating at dinner.
  2. Move it: Exercising early in the day, and taking a walk after dinner, will help keep some of the calories from adhering to the belly and hips.
  3. Consider how many people will be there: Having a smaller gathering this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t cook for more guests than necessary. Too many Thanksgiving leftovers can contribute to the pounds.
  4. Be choosy: Before filling your plate, survey the table and decide what foods are worth the calories. Take into consideration that white turkey meat, plain vegetables, and roasted potatoes are lower calorie/lower fat choices. When possible, choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, and salads.
  5. Go small: Taking small first portions will allow you to go back for small second portions of your favorites.
  6. Savor the meal: Eat slowly, taking time to socialize and talk between bites.
  7. Go easy on the alcohol: Toast, but don’t get toasted—alcohol calories can add up quickly. Alternate alcoholic drinks with a big glass of water or seltzer. This will reduce the calories, and help you stay sober and hydrated.
  8. Don’t diet: Be realistic—it’s the holidays, no one is going to diet successfully during times of celebration. Instead of weight loss, shift your mindset to weight maintenance.
  9. Cook smarter: Cut calorie and fat corners with some subtle reductions and substitutions:
    • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy
    • Use sugar substitutes in baking
    • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can
    • Try plain fat-free Greek yogurt or fat-free sour cream in dips and casseroles
    • Applesauce, mashed bananas, canned pumpkin, pureed prunes, and Greek yogurt can be substituted for oil and butter in most recipes. For maximum texture and flavor, replace no more than half the amount of the fat listed in the recipe.
    • Replace whole eggs with fat-free, cholesterol-free egg product substitutes

This article was reviewed by Emily Rubin, RD, a Clinical Dietitian in the Jefferson Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.