Don’t Let Thanksgiving Derail Your Healthy Diet: Tips from a Dietitian

by | Updated: October 13th, 2020 | Read time: 3 minutes

If you have spent 2017 chugging along the track toward a weight-loss goal, a big obstacle – the Thanksgiving holiday — looms just ahead on the journey to a svelte new you.

Even the most disciplined of eaters can easily go off the rails on Turkey Day, says Torey Armul, a Columbus, Ohio-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Overeating is socially acceptable — even expected — over Thanksgiving,” she says. “That can be difficult for people who want to lose weight or stay healthy.”

Thanksgiving Holiday Table Setting with Desserts and Drinks |

In fact, the average American consumes a button-busting 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving, according to the Calorie Control Council. That is like consuming three sticks of butter, the council says.

And the damage often continues long after your holiday guests have gone home.

“You’re surrounded by food on Thanksgiving Day, but also (have) many days’ worth of tempting leftovers,” Armul says. “It’s rarely just one meal or one day that creates a significant calorie surplus.”

Fortunately, committing to two key disciplines can prevent you from packing on pounds over Thanksgiving.

Stick to your exercise routine

It’s easy to let your exercise routine slip during the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving week. But Armul urges you to stay active.

Working out helps you burn away the extra caloric fuel that is an inevitable byproduct of the holiday.

“Not only does exercise chip away at the calorie surplus, but it also puts you in a healthier frame of mind,” Armul says. “It keeps you in tune with your body, which can be the motivation you need to feed and fuel your body properly.”

Cardio exercise – such as walking, running or biking – is probably your best bet when fighting off weight gain. A 2012 Duke University study tracked 119 sedentary, overweight or obese adults over an eight-month period.

It found that adults who engaged in regular cardio workouts reduced total body mass and fat mass more than adults who engaged in resistance training, such as lifting weights.

In fact, the adults who engaged in cardio training exercised for about 47 fewer minutes per week than their resistance-training counterparts, yet still came out ahead.

A combination of cardio and resistance training did not yield significantly better body fat and fat mass results than cardio exercise alone. Yet the combination routine required about twice as much time in the gym as the cardio regimen.

That extra time can be an issue if you’re struggling to get to the gym during the chaos that surrounds the holidays. So, sticking to a simple cardio routine probably makes sense during Thanksgiving week.

Remember to eat slowly and steadily

Preventing yourself from becoming too hungry also can help keep weight gain at bay.

“When you feel (like you are) starving, you’re susceptible to making poorer food choices that tend to be higher in fat, sugar and calories,” Armul says.

While it’s wise to manage your calorie intake during Thanksgiving week, excessive hunger can cause you to eat far too much as you “miss your body’s fullness cues,” she says.

So, if you overindulge on Thursday, don’t spend the next three days fasting to repent for your sins. Such an approach is likely to backfire.

Instead, eat healthy snacks every three to four hours. This should help keep your appetite in check.

“The best snacks have a combination of protein and fiber to fill you up and keep you feeling full,” Armul says.

Snack combinations she recommends include: