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Tips for a Guilt-Free Thanksgiving

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Greg Dorter, RP

Thanksgiving is a holiday that tends to center around people coming together to eat, making the tendency to indulge a little too tempting. We prepare special dishes for the holiday, and because Thanksgiving dinner is a once a year treat (don’t forget the week of leftovers), many of us come away more stuffed than the holiday turkey.

However, you can savor the holiday (and even a few traditional treats), guilt-free, without worrying about excess weight gain…

Pick Portions Wisely

Part of the Thanksgiving holiday charm is feasting your eyes on the bountiful array of food—before you feast your appetites, that is. However, if you’re opting to eat mindfully, refrain from filling your plate blindly at the buffet table.

Instead, give the full menu a good look and pick and choose what you’re going to indulge in. Eating wise at a holiday meal shouldn’t be about restriction. You can focus your calories on reasonably-sized portions of your holiday favorites. Small portions means eating what you will really enjoy.

Spread Out the Bounty

As far back as you can remember, your family has gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at 6pm. Well who says you can’t pioneer a new, healthy holiday tradition by spreading the food out throughout the day.

That not only means you get more time with your loved ones, spreading out the Thanksgiving bounty gives everyone time to digest. Try gathering mid-day to eat the main meal, going for a nice walk, then gathering a few hours later for dessert and coffee.

Put the Focus on Family NOT Food

During a holiday, like Thanksgiving, it’s hard to not get caught up in the material things…like the perfect table centerpieces and the impressive display of food. It’s hard to deny that the food can be the delicious focus, the more, the merrier.

However, holidays are also the perfect time to feel gratitude for the important people in your life. So take some of the focus off food and put some back on what really matters most: family and friends spending quality time together.

Opt for Healthy Alternatives

Many Thanksgivings call for a potluck style feast. If you have the option to contribute a few dishes (or if you’re the host), you can still prepare all of your family’s traditional Thanksgiving favorites (i.e., stuffing, gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc.) with fresh and less artificial ingredients.

For example, use olive oil instead of butter and steam your veggies, opt for fat free chicken broth in your gravy, offer fat-free yogurt vs. sour cream for a potato topping, which equates to less fat, sugar, and over all calories on your table. (Here are some more Healthy Thanksgiving Food Alternatives).

Be Thankful for More Than Food

I’m always struck by how much I feel thankful for during the holidays. My loved ones are a big part of that gratitude I feel. So take that thanks away from the table by gathering everyone for a pre- or post-dinner hike (or both).

Susan Finn, PhD, RD, chair of the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition, suggests making “fitness a family adventure.” Be thankful for your loved ones and also for their health and physical capability. Plus, a brisk walk before and after dinner will burn off some of those mashed potatoes and stuffing calories.

Pace Your Boozy Beverages

I hear you, if family gatherings are a point of stress, you may feel you need a glass (or four) of wine to calm down and listen to your Uncle Fred gab on about politics. But don’t forget that dulling your senses with alcohol means a lot of empty calories.

That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beer or glass of wine, just try spacing them out by drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. This will help you stay sober, stay hydrated, and help you avoid strangling anyone.

Take Time and Really Savor

Mindful eating is the key to pacing yourself during a holiday smorgasbord. So take the time to select small portions of your Thanksgiving favorites and relish them slowly by really tasting what you’re eating. You can do this by putting your fork down between bites, and thoroughly chewing every mouthful.

Eating more mindfully helps your body and brain really savor the food, and chances are you’ll feel satisfied after your plate is clean (not go back for seconds, or third helpings).

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

Holidays are tough if you’re trying to maintain weight, let alone lose weight. Thanksgiving is a time of celebration, which typically features rich dishes, tempting desserts, and a lot of alcohol.

Top that with the chaos of getting everything else done while planning a holiday and it’s easy to drown your stress in food. So go easy on yourself. Put your restrictions on hold for the holiday and focus on healthy weight maintenance.

RP, Registered Psychotherapist

Greg has a master's degree in counselling psychology and is a registered psychotherapist in Ontario where he's been practicing with individuals and couples for 15 years. He specializes in evidence-based treatments such as CBT and mindfulness, and produces a variety of online self-help content you can find on ( and twitter (@GregDorter).

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