Tend to overeat? Seven tips for a healthier, happier Thanksgiving

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on the Women's Voices for Change (WVFC) website, and can be found here.

It’s that time of year again, with Thanksgiving upon us. It feels like just yesterday that my patients were complaining that they always gain weight around the holidays. What is it about the holidays that cause so many people to forget about their health and begin the weeks of over indulgence?

Let’s be realistic. Thanksgiving is a day, a single day — not a weekend, not a week, not many weeks until New Year’s. I tell my patients: enjoy the day, enjoy the food.

But don’t create a diet disaster when there doesn’t have to be one. Don’t create excuse after excuse of why overeating became your focus and you stopped taking care of yourself until January 1st rolled around.

Here are some tips on how to approach T-Day:

    1. Don’t skip meals. If you think you must save calories for the big meal, think again. Basically, you’re telling yourself that you will definitely overeat later.
    2. Snack before you go. If your Thanksgiving meal is planned for evening, have a snack before you leave the house. Not being starved when you get to your destination will help you to focus less on food.
    3. Catch up with family and friends. Isn’t that really what the holiday’s about? An added benefit: it’s hard to do a lot of chatting if your mouth is full of food. (Grab some inspiration from Meryl Streep’s character in last year’s hit, It’s Complicated, at the table here with friends–and a big bowl of leafy greens.)
    4. Plan an activity for the day. If you’ll be having company for the entire day, why not think of something to do besides just eating or sitting in front of the TV? Why not go for a long walk, consider your own game of touch football, or even a ping-pong competition? (That’s my family’s game of choice.)
    5. Step away from the hors d’ oeuvres. No need to position yourself where food is staring you in the face. If possible, choose a chair or a seat on the couch where the reach is nearly impossible without calling attention to yourself.
    6. If you’re the host, give away leftovers. Have lots of baggies and plastic containers available so you can send your guests home with food, especially the desserts. Keep only the turkey for yourself — it’ll make great sandwiches (on whole wheat bread) the next day.
    7. If you’re a guest, gracefully refuse leftovers. It was delicious, sure, but no need for repeat performances.

When all is said and done, the bottom line is: Enjoy the day. But no excuses on Monday that you think you gained weight because you forgot about your health. Remember, we always have choices–and a healthier Thanksgiving is a choice you can make. Happy holiday!

Keri Gans is a Registered Dietitian in private practice in Manhattan. She is a Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), an ADA Delegate for NY State, and a Past President of the New York State Dietetic Association. She is also a member of the WVFC Medical Advisory Board. Her book, The Small Change Diet, will be available in Spring 2011.

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