Thanksgiving: a holiday that is usually centered around the dinner table with family, friends and copious amounts of delectable food (we see you, pumpkin pie). From succulent roasted turkey to savory side dishes, we’re sure you have a few favorites you look forward to every year. But all of that delicious food can sometimes leave you feeling stuffed and uncomfortable.
And if you’re on a journey to better health and weight loss, learning how to navigate this time of year can be especially difficult. Here’s the good news: you can enjoy yourself, feel great on Thanksgiving and still stick to your weight loss goals with a few simple tricks.
Learn how to avoid the “holiday slide” by staying on track with your healthy habits — and make this Thanksgiving your healthiest yet with these six helpful tips.
1. Say yes to breakfast and lunch.
Most of the festivities kick off in the afternoon, with many Americans dishing up their Thanksgiving meal between 1-3:00 p.m.1 While it might be tempting to put off breakfast and lunch to get the most out of your dinner, skipping meals will likely leave you feeling tired, cranky and hungry.2 Waiting all day to eat may also make you more likely to overeat when the food is served. Avoid feeling “hangry” by having a healthy breakfast and lunch earlier in the day. If you have a snack between meals, try a nonfat plain Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg or a handful of carrot sticks to help you feel more satisfied.
2. Embrace healthier food choices.
Ready to build your Thanksgiving plate? Rather than thinking of the holiday as an all-you-can-eat feast, create your plate the way you would any other time of the year. Focusing on plenty of veggies, a portion of lean protein, and a moderate amount of healthy fats and starches are great ways to make a nutritious and satisfying meal.
But before you reach for an extra dinner roll, try this strategy. Ask yourself:
“Is this something I can have year-round?”
If you answered “yes,” feel free to move on to the next item. Carb-heavy, sugary and deep fried foods are a dime a dozen, especially during the holidays. Pursuing your goal weight doesn’t need to be restrictive — by making mindful choices, you’ll eat the foods you actually want and are special to that specific holiday, and probably enjoy them even more.
3. Portion size is key.
How many calories are in a typical Thanksgiving dinner? The results may surprise you: Americans may eat upwards of 4,500 calories during their Thanksgiving dinner alone, according to the Calorie Control Council.3 But that doesn’t mean you have to skip your favorite foods. Pay attention to your portions and refer to our helpful Portion Size Guide as a reference. To keep your portions under control, try filling the majority of your plate with a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fresh salad from the Fresh & Free Additions list. Also, before considering seconds, allow yourself 20-30 minutes to start digesting before putting any other food on your plate — it can take at least 20 minutes for you to begin feeling full.4
4. Make smart swaps.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving favorites in new, delicious ways by making simple substitutions. Try these:
Spiced sweet potatoes: Skip the marshmallows and turn up the volume on these naturally sweet veggies with aromatic spices. Heat the oven to 375 F. Sprinkle a little cinnamon and nutmeg, a dash of vanilla extract and a spritz of olive oil over sweet potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes. Toss gently to coat. Spread evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and tender. Mash roasted sweet potatoes and serve. If you're on the Jenny Craig program, a serving of 1 cup of spiced sweet potatoes equals 2 starches.
Healthy green bean casserole: Make two servings with Jenny Craig’s Green Beans with Garlic & Olive Oil and top it with crispy onions. To make the onions, peel and slice a small onion into 1/8-inch rings. Dip rings into an egg white and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese along with salt and pepper to taste. (1 tablespoon of Parmesan counts as 1 limited food, if you're on Jenny Craig.) Place onions into an air fryer and give them a quick burst of cooking spray. Flip rings over and spray again. Fry at 400 F for five minutes, or until crispy.5 Heat green beans according to instructions, top with onions and enjoy immediately.
For the Main Event: And if you are on the Jenny Craig program, you can skip laboring for hours in the kitchen and have Thanksgiving dinner ready in less than 10 minutes with Jenny Craig’s Turkey and Wild Rice! Tender turkey, savory wild and brown rice, sweet potatoes and rich gravy make a quick and easy meal.
Sweet treat alternatives: Want to end your meal with dessert? Check out these 10 treats that will satisfy your sweet tooth without sidetracking your weight loss.
5. Slow down and savor your meal.
If you’ve ever sat down to watch TV with dinner in-hand, gotten distracted by your favorite show and suddenly noticed your plate was empty, you’ve experienced distracted eating. Distracted eating is one of the easiest ways to accidentally overindulge. However, being present and paying attention to your food may make you less likely to overeat during and after your meal.6
Trying mindful eating techniques can help: Use your senses as you eat. Savor the taste, aroma, texture and appearance of the food in front of you.7 Take note of the sensations you experience when you begin to feel full and when you feel completely full.
Eating mindfully doesn’t need to be impractical. Between catching up with friends and family and watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, you’ll encounter some distractions during the holiday. And if you’re gearing up for the big game on Thanksgiving Day, try creating a portion-conscious plate so that when you’ve finished eating everything on it, you’ll feel less inclined to go back for seconds.
6. Fight the “food coma.”
Ever eaten a big meal and wanted to take a nap immediately after? You’re not alone. Feeling drowsy after eating is common, especially after a large meal. Don’t just blame the turkey — your body’s natural circadian rhythm, or your body’s internal clock, might also be making you feel sleepy. At around 1:00 or 1:30 p.m., your body may automatically start to feel tired, whether you’ve eaten or not.8 Add this to a hefty meal, and you’re almost guaranteed to want to take a nap. To avoid feeling extra drowsy, enjoy a light meal with plenty of non-starchy vegetables, skip the alcohol, and consider sipping a cup of coffee if you’re ready to snooze before the festivities are over.6 Shake off any food fatigue by taking a brisk post-meal walk — you’ll get to appreciate the beautiful fall weather while staying active.
While food is a big part of Thanksgiving Day, there are plenty of wonderful ways to enjoy yourself that don’t revolve around the dinner table. You have enough on your mind during the holidays: what you eat shouldn’t stress you out! Try these six tips to get the most out of your holiday meal, while still maintaining your weight loss goals. And remember — one meal won’t make or break your weight loss. If you feel yourself moving toward the holiday slide, be kind to yourself and take the time to get yourself back on track the following day.
Ready to learn more about healthy eating strategies for the holidays? Contact a Jenny Craig consultant today to book your free appointment!
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, CA. Stephanie has focused on writing within the health and wellness space for the last several years, but has dabbled in the tech and environmental industries. Stephanie employs a “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoys the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find Stephanie photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.
Favorite healthy snack: Green apple slices with sunflower butter
Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!).
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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