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Healthy Thanksgiving? Er, no thanks.

As I headed to the supermarket this week to buy copious amounts of butter and cream, I caught a snippet of a radio interview that covered “ways to make Thanksgiving a bit healthier.” The moment they suggested substituting applesauce for butter I had to turn it off. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a dietitian so I’m totally down with making foods healthier, just not for thanksgiving. For that one day of feasting please just leave my food alone.

Nutrition professionals are a diverse group with very different ideas about what and how to eat. I guess I fall in the category that enjoys eating good food…in moderation…with the exception of Thanksgiving. I mean you CAN make a “healthy” version of thanksgiving but why would you do that? Just a quick google search for “healthy pumpkin pie” recipes left my head spinning. Scrolling through the list of alternate ingredients revealed the subjects of my nightmares (low fat soymilk, Splenda sugar and reduced fat graham cracker crust). Seriously, if you look forward to this annual day of feasting then don’t ruin it with that stuff. You are just fooling yourself that the apple sauce/reduced fat pie crust somehow excuses the multiple servings and leftovers because “it’s healthy.”

Eating ridiculous amounts of cream-laden vegetables, stuffing and pies isn’t something you should do every day (if you do there will be consequences) but if you only eat like this on thanksgiving then MAKE IT COUNT. The catch is that you have to figure out how to be sensible on the other days between thanksgiving and New year. Here’s why: The average American gains 1lb a year and they tend to gain it during those 5 weeks. Thanksgiving should be one day of feasting but unfortunately it has morphed into the first day of feasting and that is where the real problem lies.

So is it possible to enjoy a really good Thanksgiving (buttery rich dishes and all) without becoming part of the weight gain statistic? I think so. In fact if you are trying to be good but can’t resist some good old fashioned pumpkin pie here are my tips:

  1. Fill up your plate. ONCE. It’s really that simple. You don’t need a second helping.

  2. Savor every bite. Eat slowly. Enjoy how absolutely delicious it all tastes. Maybe even talk to your family.

  3. Definitely include something bright and colorful and green (We include this yummy kale salad - mostly to reassure myself that I am a nutrition professional and haven’t completely lost my mind).

  4. Don’t wear stretchy pants. I know it’s tempting but that “I ate so much I’m busting out of my pants” feeling is actually really good feedback to your brain that you don’t need to keep going.

  5. Avoid leftovers (of the side dishes and desserts). The turkey of course can be repurposed for a number of healthy options.

  6. Plan ahead for the rest of the weekend’s meals so you don’t find yourself eating pie for breakfast on saturday.

  7. Mostly, look around the table and think to yourself “we should eat dinner together more often.”

And in case you think that last point has nothing to do with weight gain you might want to take note of the Harvard Medical School study that concluded that the odds of being overweight were 15 percent lower among those who ate dinner with their family on most days.

So here’s my point. Eat a real Thanksgiving. Live it up. Just get back to your routine on Friday.

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