Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Health Tips: Surviving Thanksgiving Dinner

Photo from clatl.com

Let’s all let out a joyous cheer that we are in the holiday season.  It is a wonderful time of year, filled with friends, family, and food.  Lots, and lots of food.  Thanksgiving, holiday parties, treats at the office, food gifts from neighbors and friends, sneaking a Cinnabon at the mall, Christmas dinner, Christmas cookies, more Christmas cookies, New Year’s, etc, etc, etc!  While this might be the happiest season of all, most Americans will not be cheering when they step on their bathroom scales January 2nd.   Although weight loss during this time of year can be challenging, if not impossible, with a little planning and some will power, weight management is possible. 

I could probably focus this whole blog on tips for managing weight during the holiday season, but for now I will focus on the most imminent threat to your waistline: Thanksgiving dinner.  According to the Calorie Control Counsel (yes, there is officially a counsel for everything now) the typical holiday meal contains a whopping 4,500 calories.  That’s like eating 8 Big Macs.  Goodbye, skinny jeans!  How can a meal possibly be that atrocious?  Blame it on fatty, sugary foods and lots of ‘em.  But here’s a few things you can do about it:

  • Keep it simple.  Think about what is going to be on the average Thanksgiving dinner table.  Turkey, stuffing, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and ice cream.  Think about how all that is going to fit on your plate.  It’s not.  And if it doesn’t fit on your plate, it doesn’t fit in your stomach.  A big problem with most Thanksgiving dinners is that there is just too much food available, and we want it all!  So to keep the calories low (and the day less stressful) cut some of it out.  Do you need bread and stuffing?  Do you need mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Should you eat pie and  ice cream?  Pick what you like the most, and stick with that.
  • If you do find yourself surrounded by a smorgasbord of food, choose wisely.  A good strategy is to divide your plate (a reasonably sized plate, mind you!) into four quarters.  Make a quarter of your plate protein.  That would be your turkey.  Another quarter of the plate is for your carbohydrates.  This is where you stick your mashed potatoes, or sweet potatoes, or stuffing.  Or if you are really good, a few tastes of each.  The remaining half of the plate is for fruits and vegetables.  Pick out your green beans, salad, and cranberries.  This method gives you a good balance of food groups and helps easily control your portions, which decreases your calorie intake.
  • For those with the task of preparing the traditional feast, making a few simple ingredient swaps can seriously cut out calories.  If you have been reading my Makeover Monday posts you know what I am talking about.  For example, mashed potato recipes commonly call for high fat dairy which can easily be substituted for low fat.  Use sugar substitutes in desserts to cut out major calories.  Making stuffing with whole wheat bread bumps up the fiber.  If you are making your own bread, make yours with whole wheat flour.
  • If substituting ingredients isn't for you, just choose healthier dishes.  Instead of making creamy mashed potatoes, make each guest a small baked potato and pass around light sour cream and margarine.  That way guests can pile on the fat as much as they want, but you don't have to.  Flavor mashed potatoes with rosemary and garlic instead of a pool of gravy. Instead of preparing green beans with fatty canned soup and topping with fried onions (I'm looking at you green bean casserole), steam fresh green beans and toss with lemon juice and slivered almonds.  Or saute them in a splash of olive oil with your favorite seasonings.  Get your sweet fix with fruit instead of pie.  Or try my Guiltless Pumpkin Pie.
  • When you hear the voice in your head that tells you, "It's Thanksgiving; eat all you want," remember the first Thanksgiving.  The pilgrims and Indians gathered to celebrate a successful harvest after months of back-breaking work.  They picked their crops, shot a turkey, and prepared their meal without electricity or running water.  Any holiday weight they put on they probably burned the next day as they continued on with their lives, working hard to survive the harsh New England winter.  So unless you are going to run a marathon the day after Thanksgiving or are a pilgrim, you probably aren't entitled to eat whatever you want without paying the calorie consequences.  Just something to keep in mind!
Final food for thought: Food is a great part of the holiday season, but it isn't the best.  Savor family and friends, and enjoy a bit of good food along the way!

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