How to Enjoy Thanksgiving Without Blowing Your Diet

How to Enjoy Thanksgiving Without Blowing Your Diet

America’s official Day of Gluttony isn’t easy to navigate when you’re trying to lose a few. But during the three years it took me to lose 100 pounds, not to mention the first half-decade of maintaining that loss, I learned a thing or two. Today, I’m going to share some of my secrets with you—and since I’m having a bit of a hard time myself lately, I hope you’ll share some of your secrets with me.

Plan Ahead This is probably the most important thing you can do, and it takes several forms:

  • Everybody and his mother knows that Thanksgiving will be a day filled with temptations, all those once-a-year dishes that you can’t refuse because hey, they only come around once a year. So take that into account for the few days leading up to it. In Weight Watchers terms, this used to be called “banking” your calories—if you say no to seconds, sweets, and excessive snacking Monday to Wednesday, on Thursday you can go a little overboard. Just a little, mind you.
  • Talk to your host and find out what’s on the menu. You don’t need to request special treatment, but if you know what’s being served you’ll have a better gauge on how tempting it’s going to be. Don’t know your host well enough to ask? Call up and offer to bring something—and make sure it’s something healthy, that you particularly like to eat. This year I was asked to bring dessert, and I’ll be bringing two: One chocolaty and seemingly decadent (but still made as healthfully as possible), and one fruit-based.
  • Decide ahead of time how much you plan to drink, and stick to it. Would you rather have a pre-dinner cocktail, wine with the meal, or Irish coffee? Alcohol is not just empty calories; it also lowers your inhibitions, which for me often translates into, “Sure, I’ll have another slice of pie!” While we’re on the subject of drinking, if you’re staying non-alcoholic, please don’t waste calories on liquids. Cider? Save that for another day, when the food isn’t quite so over-the-top.
  • If dinner’s being served buffet-style, scope the entire display, desserts and all, before you pick up a plate. Decide which things you must have, which things you’d like to taste, and which things you can do without. And when you do pick up that plate, the very first things you put on it should be vegetables (but not that icky cream-of-goop-soup-and-green-bean casserole).
  • Group together the most diet-busting options: If stuffing, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes are on the table, don’t have all three. Choose the one you like best, and enjoy it. Can’t pick? Take tasting portions of each. Do the same with dessert—and if there’s a cream-based soup at the beginning of the meal, decide ahead of time if you’d rather have that than sweets at the end.

Eat Before You Go Don’t skip breakfast; have an extra-healthy one instead, filled with fruit, lean protein, and complex carbs. If your Thanksgiving meal is at dinner time, don’t skip lunch either. Seriously, arriving hungry is about the worst thing you can do.


Escape When you arrive at Aunt Helen’s and everybody’s milling about, find the person you’d most like to catch up with and move away from the crowd—which most likely means moving away from the bar, and the food. Find a quiet corner and have a nice long conversation. If you’re missed, simply say, “I hadn’t seen Becky in so long, I just had to be selfish and keep her to myself for a bit.” Even better: Announce to the group that you’re going for a walk, and invite everyone to join you. Odds are you’ll get at least one taker. My brother’s friends—not the most athletic bunch—used to have a touch football game in the early afternoon, which they called the Nerd Bowl. Once I’d lost some weight, I joined in. It was about a thousand times more fun than stuffing my face.

Don’t Be Embarrassed The more people who know you’re watching what you eat, the more likely you are to remain focused yourself. When I was losing all that weight, I told everyone I met about it! That was a big change for me—on my dozens of previous efforts I was so afraid to fail publicly that I never told people I was trying. Which means I was really planning to fail, when you think about it.

Don’t Deny Yourself You hear this a lot at Weight Watchers, and I have a feeling some people take it the wrong way. Lord knows I used to: I’d pile up my plate, all the while assuring myself that it’s more dangerous not to eat, that if I said no to anything the resentment would grow and I’d binge. Hello, what was I doing right then and there, if not binging? Here’s what that saying really means: You can eat whatever you want—you just can’t eat as much as you want of everything. So if Aunt Helen’s famous sausage dressing is something that simply can’t be missed, by all means take a small serving. Savor it, don’t drown it in gravy. Appreciate the flavors and the significance, the special occasion that’s bringing your loved ones together. Food is good. It’s meant to be enjoyed, not feared.

Acknowledge the Stress For many people, big family gatherings raise a lot of, um, issues. Even today, as soon as I walk through my parents’ door, I behave like the sullen teenager I used to be. And more often than not, I head for the kitchen. Emotional eating is a real danger on Thanksgiving—whatever problems there may be in your family, odds are nobody’s going to want to discuss them at a celebration. So there may be a lot of tension in the air, which can lead to overdoing both the food and the alcohol. If you acknowledge this possibility to yourself beforehand, you may be able to avoid some of your more anxiety-driven indulgences.

Eyes on the Prize Before you take that second slice of pumpkin pie, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I still hungry?
  2. How will I feel after I eat this?
  3. Is it worth it?

There you have it. My best tips, all for you. Now please, return the favor: What are your best tips?