On Thanksgiving, many of us will gather with family and friends for a day of relaxation and togetherness. We will tell stories, laugh, enjoy each other’s company.
And we will eat. And eat. And eat some more.
According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American consumes more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. To put that in perspective, it is equivalent to about 2-3 days of “normal” eating, based on the 2,000-calorie diet advocated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (interestingly, this figure was based less on science and more on ease of use, says Marion Nestle, author of the “Food Politics” blog). Still, there’s no denying that’s a lot of calories — enough to add an extra 1 ¼ pounds to that number you see on the scale.
Of course, this raises the question: Is it possible to have a happy Thanksgiving 2019 — maybe even indulge a little — while, at the same time, keeping calories in check?
Absolutely. But it’s not as cut and dried as you might think.
Thanksgiving Day Diet Mistakes
Let’s start with the Thanksgiving Day diet don’ts:
1) Don’t go to the gym the day after Thanksgiving in an attempt to burn the excess calories you had. This is like abstaining from drinking following a night of alcohol-induced twerking at the company Christmas party.
It doesn’t even out.
When you overeat, the body reacts accordingly. Unless you’re careful, all that hyper-intensive exercise sessions after (or before) the fact do is burn muscle — muscle you need to keep your metabolism revving and your diet on track.
2) And speaking of metabolism, ease back on the alcohol. I know, I know, everybody loves your lamp-shade karaoke sessions, but here’s the deal: While a small amount of alcohol — one drink per day for women and up to two for men — can spike metabolism (at least in mice), it can also add a lot of calories and sugar. Plus, alcohol has been linked to increased appetite, especially among women. Not exactly a recipe for dieting success.
3) Don’t replace traditional favorites with less desirable substitutes. Every year, you’ll see articles advocating this and it’s silly. A slice of your favorite pie cannot be replaced with seasonally flavored humus. Invariably, you’ll eat the humus and the pie. Practice portion control (read on) rather than depriving yourself of a favorite holiday dish. To be successful, your diet needs to be geared around your lifestyle, not the other way around.
Ways to Cut Thanksgiving Calories Without Feeling Deprived
So, now that you’re feeling helpless, depressed and on the verge of staying home and eating tofu and bean sprouts for dinner, let’s look at some things you can do to have a great Thanksgiving without the prohibitive calorie cost:
1) Eat before your Thanksgiving 2019 dinner — and not just a bunch of snack food either. According to a survey from Basis Science, seven out of 10 Americans don’t eat regular meals before Thanksgiving. This may seem like a wise strategy — save all the calories for the big meal — but, let’s be honest: that’s not what generally happens, is it? No, instead we grab everything and anything we can get our hands on, as we wait impatiently for the turkey and side dishes to finish cooking. This just adds more calories.
Worse, they are usually “empty calories” (calories lacking nutritional value).
2) Make substitutions when and where you can. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that this was also listed as a Thanksgiving Day mistake, but that was related to entire food swaps. Here, we’re talking about less drastic, micro changes. For example, switching sour cream with plain yogurt — it really does taste similar — or using Splenda® instead of sugar in your favorite recipes (you can even find cooking tips on the Splenda website).
By making small, yet meaningful, changes you can shave hundreds of calories, along with unwanted fat and sugar, from your Thanksgiving Day menu.
3) Take smaller portions. This may seem obvious — and it is — but notice the word “take.” Most of us have a tendency to eat what we are given (those claiming that a bag of Doritos has nine servings are the same people urging you to make a tofu turkey), so part of the goal here is to at least start with smaller servings, knowing that you can always go back for seconds… or thirds… or the bag (if you’re eating Doritos).
As part of this, remember to chew. One of the easiest ways to overindulge is by eating too fast (which is another reason fasting before Thanksgiving is a mistake). Furthermore, try to be aware of what constitutes a similar portion. For example, did you know that you can have almost twice as much pumpkin pie as pecan pie for the same number of calories? (Check out this great chart produced by Shape magazine for more info on your favorite pies.)
The Bottom Line on Thanksgiving 2019 Dieting
For many of us, Thanksgiving is a very special holiday, filled with tradition and history. As such, it’s not one that should be tinkered with — and it doesn’t need to be. By adhering to the do’s and don’ts outlined above, you can keep those cherished traditions intact, while also keeping your diet on track as well.
Happy Thanksgiving! And remember to grab a Bang Energy drink after the big meal to help keep you awake when Aunt Clarice insists on telling stories about her latest trip to the doctor’s office.