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How to Avoid Gaining Weight Over Thanksgiving

Updated on March 18, 2016
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Marissa is the writer of ThePracticalMommy and the blog Mommy Knows What's Best. She is a stay-at-home mom to four and was a teacher.

Thanksgiving quote
Thanksgiving quote | Source

Gaining Weight on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday when we celebrate what we are thankful for by stuffing ourselves full. Makes sense, right? That's usually what ends up happening. Family and friends will gather together, say a prayer of Thanksgiving, share what they are thankful for, and then eat a fabulously prepared meal until they are filled to the gills.

An unpleasant side effect from all of this eating is weight gain. Most people do not portion their foods or take the time to consider how many calories they are consuming in one (or two or three) meal. Also, many remain sedimentary and don't move around enough before or after the meal to help their bodies burn off the holiday calories.

Here you will learn some tips about planning for the Thanksgiving meal, what foods to eat, and what to do after dinner to help avoid that pesky holiday weight gain.

Thanksgiving Dinner

A simple Thanksgiving meal
A simple Thanksgiving meal | Source

A Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving dinner wasn't always so indulgent or calorie filled. In fact, the first Thanksgiving meal consisted of corn from the fall harvest, deer meat, any fowl that happened to be killed that day, and a few other Native American staples. It was all eaten over a three day celebration. The time before the feast was spent in fasting and preparing the meal, and it was celebrated like that years after those first few times the Pilgrims gathered. This way of celebrating had religious roots and was a way for the people to express their thanks for survival during tough times.

It wasn't until the mid-late 1800s that the meal became a national pastime. Thanksgiving became a national holiday during the Civil War in 1863, as declared by Abraham Lincoln. It was celebrated on the last Thursday of every November until 1941 when it was changed to the fourth Thursday in November.

Since the first Thanksgiving meal, religious significance has been lost and 'tradition' of food and family took precedence. Now, family and friends gather on the holiday to enjoy a feast of what we know consider to be traditional Thanksgiving foods: Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and, my personal favorite, pumpkin pie. Making the holiday truly American, everything is in abundance, and there are more side dishes on the table, depending on what each family likes and their backgrounds, plus pies and cakes for dessert.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Thanksgiving menu
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Sweet Potatoes
Pumpkin Pie
A traditional Thanksgiving menu. What extra foods do you include?

Thanksgiving Dinner

Do you overeat on Thanksgiving?

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Plan for Thanksgiving Dinner

Eating all of the yummy goodness that Thanksgiving affords can cause you to gain weight over the holiday. Here are some tips of how to plan for the Thanksgiving dinner.

If You Are the Cook/ Meal Planner:

  • Consider healthy recipes for the traditional foods, like a baked turkey instead of a fried turkey.
  • Add more healthy vegetables to your menu and keep them simple: green beans, peas, broccoli, spinach, baked potato with skin, and peppers. A vegetable tray can be a great, colorful centerpiece.
  • Set the table with smaller dishes. A large plate only invites guests to fill it up with too much food.
  • Make sure water is on the drink menu. Heavy drinks like eggnog or empty calorie drinks like soda or alcohol only fill you up with unnecessary calories.
  • Plan an activity after dinner that will help your guests get up and moving. A game of charades or a walk around the neighborhood will greatly help everyone's digestive system with processing all of the food they consumed.

If You Are the Guest:

  • Eat a small, healthy breakfast on Thanksgiving Day morning. A bowl of cereal with some fruit will give you a great morning boost without filling you up with too much like an egg breakfast would.
  • Like everything you see? Have it all, but in smaller portions than you normally would. One piece of turkey, a small scoop of mashed potatoes, a drizzle of gravy, and a small helping of pumpkin pie will give you all the yummy tastes without all of the extra calories.
  • Go for the vegetables, especially those high in fiber. Fiber will help your body when it is digesting your food intake and help you from getting, ahem, constipated afterwards.
  • Pace yourself. Eat slowly without gulping everything down all at once. Give your body a fighting chance to let you know that you've had enough.
  • Drink water. Water has zero calories and is great to drink with a large meal. Drinks like eggnog or alcohol only have empty calories that will cause you to gain weight. Don't like plain water? Add a slice of lemon or cucumber to give it a bit of taste.
  • Get up and move around after dinner. We all tend to take a nap or sit and watch the football games, but that does nothing for our bodies that are working hard to process all of the food we eat. Take a walk or play a game that gets you up and moving.

Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

Did you know that the traditional Thanksgiving meal can be full of nearly 5,000 calories or more? Yikes!! That's double what most of us should eat on a daily basis, let alone at one meal. The culprits that help add on all those calories are the butter or fat ingredients, and just think of how many of the foods call for those!

Here are some yummy dinner ideas that won't pack on the calories:

  • Baked turkey or herb roasted turkey
  • Low-fat gravy made with turkey stock, minus the fat trimmings
  • Homemade cranberry relish
  • Steamed vegetables, without butter
  • Whole-wheat stuffing, made with fruit
  • Mashed sweet potatoes

Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done with the traditional pumpkin pie, unless you can find a low calorie crust recipe or forgo the crust and make a pudding instead. There's good news, though! Pumpkin is loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals that help fight disease, plus fiber to help your overloaded system a bit. A word of caution: fresh pumpkin will have all of these awesome benefits, whereas canned pumpkin will have a ton of added sugar and preservatives.

Thanksgiving Activities

How active are you after the Thanksgiving meal?

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Exercising and Eating

After eating a large meal, it is recommended that you wait at least three hours before any intense exercise, but doing some light exercise will not hurt. Going for a leisurely walk can help your system digest and process all of the food you ate at your Thanksgiving meal. Playing a calm game on the Wii or Kinnect gaming systems can also help your body.

A few hours after the large meal, you can engage in some more rigorous activities, like a game of flag football, basketball, or anything else you enjoy.

Remember to stay hydrated through it all!

How Many Calories Burned When Walking

For an average sized person walking around 3 mph for a mile, around 90 calories are burned. That's not too bad! To burn more calories, you would need to increase the speed of the walking.

Want to see how many calories you would burn walking? Enter your information in this calculator.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Even if you make a few of these changes, you can increase your chances of gaining less weight over the Thanksgiving holiday. Remember to use portion control, especially if you are a guest in a home where a traditional meal will be served.

Have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!



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    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 

      23 months ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Great article. These are really useful tips to help us control our weight as the holiday season begins.


    • RTalloni profile image


      3 years ago from the short journey

      Hey--this is a great hub to review. Glad to see it again, and am passing it's useful info along… :)

      Have a lovely and healthy Thanksgiving Day!

    • profile image

      jilliann m 

      4 years ago

      I know it's July at the moment but I like these tips. My family always does a big scavenger hunt for the kids after dinner. It is fun and gets us a little exercise before dessert.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States

      CyclingFitness, thank you for your constructive criticism. I had fun writing this one during month 5 of the AP! I think it'd be a good idea as you said to set apart a few choice words by highlighting them in bold. I appreciate the help! :)

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice, informative hub although there's a little too much going on on the page for me- I've tried to read but my eyes start to wander.

      As a skimmer i'd like to see a few choice words hightlighted in bold to emphasize each point. For instance on your section on being cook/ meal planner you could bold under bullet 1- Consider healthy recipes for the traditional foods and bullet 2 Add more healthy vegetables to your menu and keep them simple.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States

      RTalloni, 5000 calories is crazy right? Yet most of us eat that much without even blinking that day. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I'm glad it was helpful. :)

    • RTalloni profile image


      6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this great look at holiday eating. 5000 calories in one meal is shocking! Having to avoid foods that contain cow's milk in any form is a help to me, but you've posted super info and tips in a well-done hub. Bravo from start to finish!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States

      Om Paramapoonya, holiday drinks definitely can pack on the calories without even a second thought from us. As with everything else, all should be consumed in moderation. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for these practical tips. I like that you pointed out some holiday drinks actually contain a lot of calories. The turkey and pies are not the only culprits! Two glasses of eggnog are just about as fattening as a big piece of pumpkin pie.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      Janis Goad, I know a lot of people who go out to avoid cooking a huge meal and having a ton of leftovers. Nothing wrong with that! If it was up to me to cook the meal, we'd be going out too. ;)

      Thanks for sharing that info about Canada's Thanksgiving. I learn something new every day! Thanks for reading!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      jellygator, I couldn't imagine my grandmother changing the menu either, but smaller portions is definitely the way to go! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 

      7 years ago

      I love turkey and cranberry, but we get so sick of leftover turkey for weeks afterward that now I often cook chicken instead, or we go out for dinner and I don't have to cook at all! That's my favourite one.

      In Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving on a Monday in early October--the 4th Thursday in November is almost Christmas time. By then it is winter in Canada, and harvest is so long over we can hardly remember it. Nevertheless, the foods are the same!!

    • jellygator profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      There's no way in heck I'll change the menu, but I like the idea of smaller plates and glasses of water at each sitting!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      talfonso, seems like you're prepared for the feast! Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    • talfonso profile image


      7 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      Thanks for the tips on healthy eating during the that part of (gulp) the holidays. It's a time of year when dieters throw caution to the wind and eat everything in sight.

      This year, I'm going to wear an outfit with a belt so that it would keep my stomach in check. Also, I'm bringing my cell phone with me because it has my "before" picture of me as my background. (It's me at my fittest, on the DISNEY WONDER with Mickey Mouse. Now I weigh more than when I had that taken.) It reminds me that I can go back to that old, fit self even at that time of overeating.

      I also will do a lot of Oxycise! and will up the ante in terms of duration as well as increase intensity of regular exercise.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      Glimmer Twin Fan, green beans with bacon? Who could resist? Sounds yummy. It is so hard not to overeat on Thanksgiving; I agree with that!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      7 years ago

      Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without my mom's mushy green beans with bacon. Yumm. Can't wait and also can't help but overeat.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      teaches12345, who can resist pumpkin pie? It's a weakness of mine this time of year! ;) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      Phil Plasma, portion control certainly does help. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      With the holidays approaching, this hub will certainly be looked at for the wonderful suggestions you made. I try to limit my intake of the high fat food items, but can't resist a good pumpkin pie.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Yep, if we can keep an eye on portion size and go heavy on the vegetables, I think we'll do okay. Good reminder to all of us to restrain.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      billybuc, I don't even want to hear it. I gain weight just from looking at food! ;) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      Natashalh, I could only imagine the damage pecan pie does. Isn't it all butter? Yikes! Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      carol7777, yes some people will still gorge on Thanksgiving. I'm not so sure dieting a few days before Thanksgiving will help, although establishing a healthy eating lifestyle months before might help. It's always good to look for the veggies on the table. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • ThePracticalMommy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from United States

      denisemai, oh that casserole sounds so yummy! If it's tradition for you to have it or make it every year, do it, but just eat smaller portions.

      I too usually sit down to relax (AKA nap) but this year I'm going to make it a point to take the kiddos outside and play around a bit. Any little bit helps!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great suggestions; I'm one of those lucky ones who really doesn't gain weight, and my appetite is not what it once was....but these are great ideas for those who can still add pounds just by looking at food. :)

    • Natashalh profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      You are right - even many people who usually eat sensibly throw good eating habits out the windo when it comes to holiday meals! Pecan pie has an entire meal of calories in a single slice. That's a yikes, for sure. Thanks for the advice on some healthier options.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      For some reason Thanksgiving is a day of eat and stuff. I think taking some precautions like cooking healthier is great advice. However, people have in their minds to gorge....Why not try dieting a few days before the big day. Actually for me it is easy as I am not wild about stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes and rolls. I look for veggies and turkey..and have a tiny taste of dessert unless it is pecan pie. Good hub with lots of good advice to follow. Vote UP.

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 

      7 years ago from Idaho

      Ok. So what I surmise is that yummy, creamy, cheesy potato casserole is probably not a good choice. Especially not seconds and thirds. Also, plopping down in front of the television to watch football should be done after we exercise. GAH!! I do it all wrong.

      Great tips for managing calories during a difficult eating holiday.


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