Monday, November 22, 2010

A Low Calorie Thanksgiving? Don't Bother!

I get tons of requests at this time of year asking how to make the Thanksgiving meal healthier. My advice? Don’t bother. Thanksgiving is just one day – or two or three if you have leftovers! But I think people should enjoy the traditional dishes that make this day special to us. One day is not going to make or break anyone’s diet.

But if you’re struggling with your weight, you definitely want to avoid weight gain over the holidays. So here are my big tips for having a fun holiday, enjoying your favorite foods, but staying on track with your health and weight.

Think Long Term. The problem with Thanksgiving is not that day – or any day in particular. But Thanksgiving does signal the start of a month long holiday food frenzy that won’t end until New Year’s Day. In terms of your health habits, think in terms of several days at a time. How are those three or four days balancing out?

Don’t Try to Lose Weight. The holidays may not be the best time for you to lose weight. If you’ve been losing weight over the past couple of months, make the goal of not gaining any weight. That way, you can enjoy the holiday and just pick back up your weight loss goals after the holiday.

Be Active. Go for lots of walks, don’t skip the gym, and make time for physical activity. If you balance out your eating with activity, you are much less likely to gain weight.

Choose the Best and Leave the Rest. This weekend and over the holidays, choose the foods that you really love. If your Aunt Mary makes the best pecan pie in the world and you only get to have it over the holidays, you’ll regret it if you deny yourself that pie. But, skip the chips and dip – you can have that any time. And those little store bought cookies that taste like cardboard? Why bother?

Eat Slowly and Enjoy Your Family and Friends. Yes, the holidays are about the food – but they’re also about spending time with family and friends – so slow down your eating and really enjoy the day.

Don’t Starve Yourself to Save Calories. Skipping meals to save up calories for a party or dinner will backfire.

Eat Healthy When You Can. When you’re not at parties or dinners, eat as healthy as you can. Then you can eat the not-so-healthy holiday foods when the time comes. Think balance and you can enjoy holiday foods without gaining weight!

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham