Here’s how you can stick to a diet when faced with Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner (Flickr)

Thanksgiving means time with family and friends.

Well, it’s also perhaps a time to break a diet — and there’s plenty of opportunities for that.

“It’s a day of celebration, something you do once a year with loved ones,” said Allie Mitchell, clinical director and certified health coach with The Nutrition and Wellness Center in Williamsburg. “Never let food hold you back from being completely present with friends and family.”

Each year, tables are set with turkeys, stuffing and pies but that doesn’t have to terrify those trying to stick to a healthy meal plan. 

Sentara Healthcare suggests heading into the holiday with a mind toward respecting the body while still including plenty of seasonal produce. The autumn season is one that provides various opportunities for nourishing meals with winter squashes, vegetables and apples that contain different disease-fighting ingredients:

  • Antioxidants, to protect cells from damage
  • Flavenoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Carotenoids, which protect eyes from ultraviolet damage
  • Glucosinolates, which might have cancer-fighting properties
  • Vitamin A, to aid immune function
  • Folate, which can help treat depression

With winter squashes, a number of Thanksgiving items can be made. While the classic pumpkin pie is always a good choice, Sentara recommends adding a variety of winter squash, such as butternut squash and acorn squash, to homemade soup with broth and aromatic spices such as garlic and ginger.

Vegetables are also a good way to fit in a healthy meal. In the winter, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts can be enhanced with a drizzle of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar.

Apples of all varieties can also enhance any bowl of oatmeal by adding the fruit and a little cinnamon. Chopped apples can also add a different texture to favorite fall salads. In addition, there are a variety of pies that shine when baked with apples.

Sentara recommends shopping at local farmer’s markets for holiday produce, because it provides shoppers with the opportunity to learn more about fresh foods and preparing their produce.

But not everyone can control what food is being served at the Thanksgiving table and temptations are tricky. 

“If you eat something more than you should, forgive yourself and move on,” Mitchell said. “You have a brand new day on Friday and you won’t lose any of your progress.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends coming to the table ready with a plan.

First, those wanting to stick to a diet should avoid skipping meals or varying from typical eating times because then it will be easier to overeat come Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition, if the dinner is hosted by someone else, a good idea might be to bring a healthy dish for the table. For those who have a sweet tooth, the CDC recommends eating less carbs with other food, like potatoes and bread, so the dessert can be fully enjoyed without guilt.

The Thanksgiving dinner table can be spread as an all-you-can-eat buffet in some homes. When that’s the case, diners will want to have a small plate of foods they like best to practice portion control. Starting with vegetables and eating slowly can help to take the edge off an appetite.

Mitchell recommends always having the healthy snacks in an easily reachable location and putting the less-healthy options a bit farther away.

“Keep the finger foods light and healthy for those to reach and then you’ll have to make more of an effort to get to the foods you like,” she said. “It’s easier to pick up a healthy snack when its right in front of you.”

When planning your plate of small foods, the CDC said to pick the selections that bring the most joy. It’s okay to enjoy a treat, especially when it’s special to the holiday.

The CDC also suggests people find ways to stay active during the holiday. Being active is a good way to make up for any extra eating as well as reduce stress. This can be done in simple ways, such as taking a family walk after dinner.

While the Thanksgiving Day spread might seem like treacherous territory for anyone on a diet, there are easy ways to eat healthy through the holiday.

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