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Thanksgiving Dinner - What to Avoid

Manage Thanksgiving Dinner with Portion Control

Overeating is a Thanksgiving tradition practiced by families across the country. But as waistlines expand Canada wide, people are paying closer attention to just how much they overeat during the holidays. And the numbers are downright frightening. By the time the football game is over and everyone heads to bed, the Calorie Control Council estimates that most will have consumed 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat. For those keeping count, that’s roughly 10 extra hours on the treadmill to burn off all that extra turkey.

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Everyone loves a good Thanksgiving meal, but you don’t have to pile on the calories to enjoy good food. According to Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), “All holiday delicacies can be enjoyed so long as they’re eaten in moderation.” Keep your portions and your appetite in check and you can enjoy any Thanksgiving spread without overdoing it.

First Things First: Control Your Appetite

According to University of Missouri nutrition professor Heather Leidy, “Breakfast is a valuable strategy to control appetite and regulate food intake.” Dr. Leidy’s 2011 study of breakfast eaters found that those who started their day with protein stayed fuller longer and were less likely to overeat later in the day. A protein shake or a few slices of meat will go a long way to prevent overeating. Avoid the temptation to save those calories for the big meal. The math makes sense, but hunger is about more than numbers.

Get to Know Your Caloric Needs

Healthy eating is all about the numbers. Start with an estimate of the number of calories you must consume daily to reach or maintain a healthy weight. Individual caloric needs can vary significantly.  Many websites offer free online calculators that calculate daily calorie requirements based on age, height, weight and activity level. Subtract your breakfast from your required daily calorie intake and design your Thanksgiving meal around that number.

Load Your Plate and Mind Your Portions

Thanks to research conducted by concerned dietitians at the University of Texas, the average calorie count of the most popular Thanksgiving dishes is well known. Using their well-researched estimates, it’s easy to build a healthy Thanksgiving plate with a quantifiable amount of calories.

Start with vegetables. The healthier rules suggest filling half of every plate of food you eat with vegetables. Look around the spread for steamed, sautéed or boiled vegetables. Four servings or two cups – a cup is roughly the size of your fist - of vegetables will fill up half of your plate for around 300 calories. If vegetables are an unlikely guest at a relative’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, bring your own.

Make meat the next stop. Contrary to popular belief, there is very little calorie difference between white and dark meat. Turkey is a relatively healthy bird with approximately 130 calories per 3-ounce serving of white meat and 160 calories for the same amount of dark meat. Ham is comparable at 150 calories per 3-ounce serving. Avoid turkey skin which can add 30 to 40 calories per serving and dole your portions out in serving sizes. A 3-ounce portion of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

Save the Thanksgiving sides for the remaining room on your plate. These are the dishes that get most dieters into trouble. The recipes you wait for all year are just as packed with calories as they are with taste. The average ½-cup serving size contains 150 calories.

To navigate this high-calorie landmine, Molly Morgan, the author of The Skinny Rules suggests a sort of triage system: decide which sides you have to have and ignore the rest. Two to three servings of the best recipes on the table are enough to satisfy most appetites. If you’re facing more than three must-have dishes, cut the servings in half and get a taste of everything.

Keep Track of Add-ons

These meal additions often have hidden calorie traps. Go easy on the gravy. It only has about 16 calories per tablespoon, but the gravy boat will quickly flood your plate with calories. Use a tablespoon instead. Cranberry sauce is surprisingly calorific at 100 calories per quarter cup. And each die-sized pat of butter is roughly 36 calories. Top it all off with a roll or square of cornbread. Each has about 150 calories per soap bar-sized portion.

Save the rest of your calories for dessert. Drink water, unsweetened iced tea or seltzer with your meal. Sweetened drinks and alcohol are high in calories that add to your daily total. Try to have at least one glass of water to put a little time between you and dessert.

Sweets are always high-calorie items. Pumpkin and pecan pie are Thanksgiving favoritesIf it’s all the same to you, choose pumpkin over pecan. A slice of pumpkin - roughly 1/8 of a 9-inch pie – has 323 calories. The same amount of pecan pie has 456. Whatever your choice, avoid adding ice cream or whipped toppings. They’re full of unnecessary sugar, calories and fat.

Don’t Go Back for Seconds

According to Dr. Bryant of the ACE, it is easy to pack on up to 1500 calories worth of seconds and snacks without even realizing it. Avoid the temptation to go back to the table by getting out of the house. Plan a nature walk with the family, take the dogs out or offer to entertain the kids in the backyard. The exercise will take your mind off of temptation and stimulate your metabolism to start burning calories. If temptation mounts, think about the consequences. Every 150 calorie serving equals 25 minutes of running later on in the week.

 Download a Free Healthy Eating Handbook from SNFC and Whole Foods Market

Sources: (Although we are a Canadian company and many of these are American sources, the stats are all very comparable).

  • -The Calorie Control Council: Stuff the Bird, Not Yourself
  • Caloriecontrol.org/articles-and-video/feature-articles/stuff-the-bird-not-yourself
  • The American Council on Exercise: Average Thanksgiving Meal Equals 3,000 Calories and 229 Grams of Fat
  • Acefitness.org/pressroom/392/hard-to-believe-average-thanksgiving-meal-equals-3
  • University of Missouri; Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast to Reduce Food Cravings, Prevent Overeating Later, MU Researcher Finds; May 2011
  • MUnews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2011/0518-eat-a-protein-rich-breakfast-to-reduce-food-cravings-prevent-overeating-later-mu-researcher-finds/
  •  The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; How to Carve Up Thanksgiving Calories; November 2011
  • MDanderson.org/newsroom/news-releases/2011/thanksgivingservingcalorie.html
  • The United States Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans; January 2011
  • http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm
  • University of Illinois Extension: Turkey for the Holidays
  • Urbanext.illinois.edu/turkey/nutrition.cfm
  •  The Skinny Rules; Molly Morgan; 2011