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Last week I wrote about ways to make hosting Thanksgiving a bit easier and less stressful. I hope it was helpful for those of you who will be having everyone over to your house for the holiday! But while only some people host Thanksgiving dinner, everyone EATS Thanksgiving dinner! We tend to love the food, and there is a LOT of it. So today I want to give you the tips and tools you’ll need to enjoy a healthy Thanksgiving this year… one in where you get to enjoy the foods you love AND not feel like a stuffed turkey afterwards!

Turkey Day is a holiday so well-known for eating until we’re incredibly uncomfortable that it’s become a given that we’ll have to loosen our waistbands afterwards. As much as we adore the food, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that most of us don’t enjoy feeling grossly uncomfortable when we’re done. So how can we avoid that fate? I’ve got a few ideas to help you.

The #1 Strategy to avoid over-stuffed-ness: MAKE A PLAN!

I swear planning must be the #1 strategy for handling anything in life. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”… that’s a pretty harsh quote, but there is some truth to it I think. Planning makes everything easier!

If we want to come out the other side of Thanksgiving (or any meal with a ton of food) feeling happy, content, and proud of how we managed the sheer abundance of food, the best strategy is to plan ahead.  For the most part, we have an idea of what foods will be at the meal. We know there will be turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and maybe green bean casserole. We also know there will be desserts. Maybe we’re bringing a dish to share, or maybe we’re even hosting the event. In both of those cases you certainly have an inside knowledge of what will be on the table.

So step 1 is to make a mental inventory of the foods, drinks, and desserts that will be there.

Step 2 is to pre-decide which of those foods is most important to you.

Think about what foods you love the most… the desserts you definitely want to save room for, the drinks you want to have, the yummiest side dishes you only get once a year, etc. Using this as your guide, make a reasonable and doable plan.

Don’t say: “I will have only turkey, vegetables, and a small helping of potatoes, with no alcohol or dessert” if trying to stick to that would be torturous! Include the indulgences you love in your plan.

Have a healthy thanksgiving and avoid overeating while still enjoying your favorite holiday foods!

5 Strategies to help you navigate the incredible volume of food:

1: Play Favorites:

There are usually a lot of options for what you can put on your plate. Some are super amazing and you look forward to them all year (like my grandma’s stuffing!). Then there are a few that are just generally good (the turkey, the sweet potatoes, the various veggies), and there a few that you don’t care about all that much (like turnips… ew).

So play favorites. Put the foods you love most on your plate first, then round it out with other options that are also yummy. Don’t even bother with the ones that are just “eh.”

I know, all of your relatives are going to be telling you to try some of whatever they brought. Resisting all the food pushers can be really hard! But stand your ground. I find a polite “No thank you” or “maybe when I finish what I have here already” go a long way. You know what foods you enjoy and which ones you’d rather pass up. Don’t let someone else force you eat anything you don’t want to eat. You’re always in control.  

2: The One-Plate “Rule”:

Our stomachs are only so big. If we wouldn’t normally go back for seconds after a full plate at any of our other meals, we don’t need to do it on Thanksgiving either (plus, there’s dessert coming!). If you don’t want to end the meal feeling puffy and lethargic, keep it to just one plate. If you followed the idea in point #1 above, then you’ve gotten the best parts already.

If you read those first two ideas and started feeling like they were too restrictive because you WANT to eat all of the foods, let me remind you of one very important thing…

There WILL be leftovers.

This is not the only day out of the entire year that you are able to enjoy these foods. Most of us make so much food on Thanksgiving that we could feed an entire army. We don’t have to eat it all at that one meal. Plus, many of the foods are ones that are easy to have in our general meal rotations, like sweet potatoes or green beans. Sure, stuffing tends to be more of a “special occasion” thing, so have some! But for the other stuff that you could have any day of the week, don’t worry about “missing out” on it for this one meal. You can always take some leftovers home (the host most likely doesn’t want to keep ALL of the leftovers anyway!)

3: Don’t Skip Meals Beforehand

There is a common tendency to skip lunch, and even breakfast, because we know that a big meal is coming later. I know that seems to make sense on the surface, but please don’t do it. You’ll arrive at the meal super hungry, and when we’re super hungry, it’s much more difficult to make choices we’re happy with. It’s also much more difficult to stop at an amount that will leave us feeling comfortable.

Essentially, eating less during the day makes it much easier to overeat at the actual Thanksgiving meal, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid! Keep your breakfast and lunch pretty normal. You’ll still be hungry for dinner, but not ravenous, and that will set you up for successfully sticking to your plan.

To avoid getting stuffed at Thanksgiving, don't skip meals beforehand!Click To Tweet

4: Tune In Periodically

It can be really easy to get distracted by conversation and end up eating too much before we notice it’s no longer feeling good. Try taking a short mental break periodically during the meal to tune in and see how you’re feeling. If you’re already feeling pretty satisfied, stop eating. If you’re not quite there yet, see if you can gauge how much more of your plate you want to eat so you can end the meal still feeling comfortable.

Just taking that moment or two to check in with your belly can reconnect you to your fullness cues so you don’t miss them.

5: Leave Room For Dessert (If You Want It)

I have a definite sweet tooth, and I always look forward to the desserts at Thanksgiving! It’s a little difficult to fully enjoy them though if I already feel stuffed. Part of my own personal plan includes saving room for dessert. I want to make sure I get to enjoy my pie!

If you’ve taken only one plate, made sure it included all the best foods, and checked in periodically to see how full you were feeling, it’s totally possible to stop eating at a place where having some dessert later won’t put you over the edge into feeling uncomfortable. This is why having a plan is so helpful!

Happy Thanksgiving, from my family to yours!

I hope these tips help you have a happy AND healthy Thanksgiving with your loved ones. Even though this holiday is talked about as being all about the food, it really isn’t. It’s about family, and gathering, and giving thanks for all of the wonderful things in our lives. Focus on all of that greatness. The food really is secondary (even if it’s amazing).