Cutting back considerably on high-calorie foods, even full meals, in the days or weeks before Thanksgiving in anticipation of pigging out on turkey, sweet potato pie and other traditional dishes on the big day is a common pre-holiday diet plan.
But the temporary strict-diet, borderline-starvation approach doesn't work, says Avital Schwartz, RD, LDN, a Sinai Hospital of Baltimore dietitian.
"Nothing is going to work in the short term. Every diet plan or food change has to be sustainable. So if you're embarking on a new plan and you want to reduce your sugary drinks or the amount of sweets that you eat on a regular basis, that's great. Wholeheartedly support it," Schwartz says. "However, if you're saying, 'For the next three weeks until Thanksgiving, I'm going to starve myself, basically, no carbs or no this, so that I can overeat,' which is basically what you're saying, that's not a great plan."
"Why not eat normally on a regular basis and also eat normally on Thanksgiving?"
Eating in moderation is always best, even on holidays. There's that impulse to feast on various calorie-loaded foods and desserts on occasions like Thanksgiving. But there are ways to enjoy a good, filling meal without overeating or starving yourself beforehand to offset increased servings.
Here are some:
It's OK to eat beforehand.
If you're thinking about skipping meals and snacks on Thanksgiving until the main feast, don't. A light breakfast and lunch helps to reduce the urge to overeat later in the day, Schwartz says.
Mindy Athas, RDN, CSO, LDN, an outpatient dietitian nutritionist at Carroll Hospital, agrees. "Eat smaller portions, but make sure you have some fruits, vegetables, high-fiber grains and protein," she says. "Additionally, you may want to add a small protein-rich snack just prior to the big meal."
Hydrate ahead of time.
Drinking plenty of water also can help curb your appetite. "Have plenty of calorie- and caffeine-free fluids before and during the meal. All liquids count, including soup, meltable items, and watery fruits and veggies," Athas says.
Eat mindfully and watch your portions.
You don't have to load your plate with everything that's on the table. Carefully consider your options. "Only choose the foods you really love. Don't just eat a roll or crackers because it's there," Athas says. "Choose the homemade, specially prepared items and really savor them. If something isn't wonderful, don't feel obligated to keep eating it."
And don't rush for seconds. Eating consciously, paying attention to how you feel as you eat, helps you enjoy your food better. "It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to tell our stomach it's full, so taking a few minutes between servings can help prevent overeating," Schwartz says.
Schwartz adds: "You should be able to try everything you want, but that doesn't mean you need a whole serving of everything you want."
Athas says to help with portion control, make half your plate fruits and vegetables, and then fill the other half with one-fourths protein and one-fourths grains. "Aim for only one serving of food, even if you load up your plate. Don't go for seconds or thirds," she says. "Eat your plants first to help feel full with less."
Allow about a half hour between dinner and dessert, and cut foods into smaller pieces to increase the time it takes to eat.
Socialize with family and friends.
Catching up with your loved ones at holiday gatherings helps keep you preoccupied between servings. "Thanksgiving meals are usually long. You can take an hour and just sip some tea and chat with everybody, and then go back later for more food if you do want more," Schwartz says.
Plan for leftovers.
If you're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner gathering, send some food home with your guests. Ask for a small doggy bag if you're a guest. This way you can save some of your favorite foods for the following days, Athas says.
Some additional tips:
- Sneak in some physical activity early in the day before you get too busy.
- Avoid picking at food while cleaning up afterwards. Pop a piece of gum in your mouth or brush your teeth after dessert to prevent nighttime snacking.
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