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Practical Steps for Preventing Thanksgiving Overeating

November 16, 2012 by NCSF 0 comments

For many, Thanksgiving represents a day in which family and friends get together to enjoy each other’s company over a large meal (or number of meals). The holiday is centered on social eating and drinking, creating the perfect environment for the overindulgence of high-calorie food and drink. Often, refusing food is a challenge, because the mindset of the day supports savoring simple joys and giving thanks for the food on the table and friendships made over the years. Turning down second or third helpings, or a taste of a special holiday dish “made just for you,” can easily result in offense, depending on the familial and cultural dynamics present in the household. Even in this environment however, there are a few simple steps that one can follow to minimize overconsumption of calories while still enjoying Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

Firstly, one must realize that overeating during a single event will not have long lasting repercussions and obviously Thanksgiving is meant to be enjoyed. It is not recommended that one should be over-concerned with consuming excess calories on a single day; however, the problem is not often centered on a single 24-hour period, as people commonly treat the eight weeks between Halloween and New Year’s Eve as one long food-fest. Therefore, a commitment to moderation becomes a relevant strategy. Implementing a few of the following actions can go a long way in minimizing caloric excess during this time of culinary extravagance.

1. Accept that Thanksgiving is inherently a day of excess. Even if you are currently following a specific diet, realize that the psychological stress associated with deprivation may result in negative emotions. Denying yourself your favorite foods while surrounded by others enjoying their holiday meal may result in overconsumption later. Cut yourself a little slack: take smaller portions and enjoy a few bites of your favorite dishes. Try to indulge only in those foods that you truly look forward to having; if your grandmother only makes her chocolate pecan pie once a year, have a small slice and enjoy it without regret. On the other hand, skip the treats and snacks you can have year-round.

2. Make sure to eat normally prior to the major meal. Don’t skip any meals before the big event in order to “save calories” or work up an appetite for the Thanksgiving dinner. Make sure to eat a healthy breakfast, and snack on fruits and vegetables. Depending on the time of day the dinner is scheduled, a reasonably-sized lunch may also be appropriate. Remember that hunger will translate into appetite when you skip a meal; when this occurs, psychological perception of energy need will far outweigh physiological requirements for caloric balance, and you’ll eat far more at dinner while enjoying it to a lesser degree.

3. Be aware of serving and plate sizes.Start with a small plate – it is well documented that people consume less when they use smaller serving plates and eat more when the plates are larger, particularly with buffet style serving. If small plates are not available scan all the offerings and select small quantities of the foods you most enjoy; keeping in mind that you can always come back for seconds. Taking a small initial sample of the main dishes will help minimize waste of food that family may have spent all day to prepare as well as total consumption.

4. Separate the food from the table.The enjoyable characteristics of the meal such as its texture, aroma and flavor coupled with close proximity often ends in overindulgence. When the food is farther away than one can reach the effort often impedes excess consumption. Studies have shown proximity eating is commonly significantly higher than non-proximity eating - particularly when combined with emotions including boredom, anxiety, and loneliness.

5. Take a second portion only if you are still truly hungry. First off, if you do finish everything on your plate, wait a moment to allow the food to trigger a hormone response to the brain. Share conversation with others around you, or just relax. If relatives push you to have additional portions of their “world-famous” food item, let them know that you thoroughly enjoyed the initial portion, but you’re taking a break from eating right now. If they insist, gently remind them you are watching your caloric consumption, or simply change the subject.

6. Avoid close proximity to the holiday spread before and after you have finished your meal. Oftentimes the holiday bounty will start with appetizers and drinks served family-style on numerous platters located near seating areas; in other cases, the food may remain in the kitchen, where portions can be dished out buffet-style. Either way, sit furthest away from the holiday spread. Remove yourself from the dining table when you are done eating, or stay out of the kitchen; the applicable adage is “out of sight, out of mind”. The temptation to continue to eat even when full can be very strong if you are within arm’s reach of food, especially those that are only served once or twice a year. Go for a walk, watch football, entertain a child, play with a pet, or help clean up in the kitchen; whatever you do, stimulate your senses in some manner that takes your mind off continual food consumption.

7. Be aware of hidden calories.Sauces and beverages can add significant energy content to any given meal. Opting for water and asking for sauces or gravy on the side can be a very easy way to negate a few hundred calories and enjoy the meal without drawing attention to your eating habits.

For example:

8. Consider how much activity it will take to work off your overindulgence. This ‘tip’ is not meant to associate negative thoughts with the Thanksgiving meal, but understanding the tangible quantity of work necessary to burn the calories in selected food items can put overeating into perspective. The following chart can be referenced to associate common food items typically served during Thanksgiving with the necessary effort one must exert on the treadmill to work off the excess calories. Note that for many of these items, few people consume only the referenced serving size.

Common Thanksgiving Food ItemApproximate Caloric ContentApproximate Treadmill Work
1 mixed drink250 kcals2.5 miles
1 glass of wine or cider120 kcals1.2 miles
6 oz cured ham300 kcals3.0 miles
6 oz white and dark turkey meat340 kcals3.4 miles
6 oz prime rib330 kcals3.3 miles
½ cup stuffing180 kcals1.8 miles
½ cup cranberry sauce190 kcals1.9 miles
½ cup mashed potatoes150 kcals1.5 miles
½ cup gravy150 kcals1.5 miles
½ cup green bean casserole230 kcals2.3 miles
½ cup candied sweet potatoes150 kcals1.5 miles
1 dinner roll110 kcals1.1 miles
½ cup of black olives80 kcals0.8 miles
1 piece of apple pie (1/8 of a 9-inch pie)410 kcals4.1 miles
1 piece of pecan pie (1/8 of a 9-inch pie)480 kcals4.8 miles
1 piece of pumpkin pie (1/8 of a 9-inch pie)180 kcals1.8 miles
½ cup whipped cream80 kcals0.8 miles
½ cup ice cream150 kcals1.5 miles


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