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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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