Enjoy Thanksgiving (Without Feeling Like a Stuffed Turkey)

platter of whole turkey with sweet potatoes

“The average person gains one pound over the holidays that doesn’t go away, and those pounds can really add up over the years,” says Debbie Davis, a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist from Doylestown Health.

“We don’t have to eat until we feel uncomfortable to enjoy the holidays,” says Debbie, who shares 10 simple strategies for a healthier Thanksgiving.

Start with a Realistic Goal

Set yourself up for success with a realistic goal, such as maintaining your weight over the holiday season.

Move Your Body

“A 20-minute, outdoor walk burns calories and sets a positive tone for the day, and an outdoor stroll between dinner and dessert is a great way to get your family involved,” says Debbie. “If you follow a fitness routine, consider adding 20 minutes to your workout.”

Don’t Starve Yourself

“Fasting to save room for dinner is an unhealthy behavior that usually leads to poor choices at the Thanksgiving table,” says Debbie. She recommends getting protein, fat and fiber in all of your meals to help you feel fuller, longer.

Avoid pancakes and French toast for breakfast. A better option would be:

  • An egg (protein and fat)
  • A slice of whole-grain toast (fiber)
  • A piece of fruit (fiber)

If your main meal is later in the day, add a light lunch, or appetizers such as:

  • Vegetables (fiber)
  • Guacamole (healthy fat)
  • Hummus (protein and fiber)

Plan Your Plate

“Look over the table and decide which foods you really want,” suggests Debbie. “Treat yourself to foods you only get at Thanksgiving, so you may want to pass by the mashed potatoes and focus on the stuffing.”

Based on a plate size of 9 or 10 inches, divide and fill your plate as follows:

  • Half vegetables
  • One quarter proteins
  • One quarter starches

PROTEINS: Turkey is a healthy part of Thanksgiving dinner. Go lean by focusing on light over dark meat and removing the skin.

STARCHES: Usually, starches are side dishes with more calories.

VEGETABLES: Choose veggies with less added fat/sugar. Opt for lightly seasoned green beans over a green bean casserole and simple roasted sweet potatoes instead of a dish with marshmallows.

Include seasonal, locally grown produce whenever possible. “Local produce is fresh, tastes better and is closer to ripening, when vitamins, minerals and other nutrients have had a chance to develop. And, buying near home supports local farmers and the environment,” says Debbie.

What’s in season:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Leafy greens
  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Pomegranates
  • Pears

Practice Mindful Eating

  • Eat slowly and savor every bite.
  • Focus on smell, taste and texture.
  • Pause and take sips of water.
  • Don’t go for seconds. Instead, think about having leftovers the next day.

Stay Hydrated

“It is common to think we are feeling hunger when we are actually thirsty, so make sure you drink enough water,” cautions Debbie. “Divide your weight by two to calculate how many fluid ounces you should drink each day. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you should drink 100 ounces of fluid (mostly water) daily.”

Limit Alcohol

“If you drink alcohol, limit your intake and drink water in between every sip of alcohol,” Debbie says.

Avoid Dessert Dilemmas

To enjoy dessert without going overboard, Debbie suggests:

  • Your body needs time to recognize you are full, so wait 20 minutes after dinner before having dessert.
  • Choose desserts you don’t get all of the time.
  • Cut portions in half and choose one or two.
  • Select healthier options like fruit or pumpkin pie over chocolate cake.

The Day After

“If you end up overeating on Thanksgiving,” says Debbie, “Skip the guilt and give yourself a fresh start by eating a balanced diet and walking, or resume your exercise routine.”

Living with Leftovers

To feast on leftovers without overindulging, follow the Plan your Plate rules (above).

Need guidance for managing your weight?

Doylestown Health’s individualized healthy eating program, A Healthy Weigh incorporates "real" food into a plan customized to each person's nutritional needs. It begins with an initial consultation during which the dietitian will determine the individual nutrition requirements. This is followed by Phase 1, which focuses on the basics of attaining a healthy weight and well-being. Phase 2 builds on Phase 1, with in-depth nutrition and health-related training, recipes and mindfulness inspiration.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, A Healthy Weigh is currently offered virtually.


About Doylestown Health Nutrition Services

Doylestown Health Nutrition Services offers personalized nutrition plans for those with a current medical condition or those interested in preventive health and weight loss. Doylestown Health Nutrition Services specializes in nutrition therapy for diabetes, weight management, cardiovascular disease, digestive and eating disorders, pregnancy, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

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