Thanksgiving is all about family, fun and, of course, food. It goes without saying that the normal day-to-day eating routine goes out the window in favor of filling your Thanksgiving plate full of turkey, rich side dishes like creamy mashed potatoes and pie for dessert. It can throw a wrench in anyone’s best weight-loss efforts.
It’s important to understand completely restricting yourself during the holidays isn’t a recipe for success, says Natalie Rizzo, RD, a New York City-based nutritionist. “The holidays are about eating and savoring the foods you love and look forward to all year,” she says. “It’s a once-a-year type of meal.”
Still, there are ways to be smart about what you put on your plate. Here, nutrition experts share their best tips for eating well on Thanksgiving (and during other major food-focused events):
5 SMART STRATEGIES FOR FILLING YOUR THANKSGIVING PLATE
1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Tune into your feelings of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. Holidays like Thanksgiving can be busy and stressful, making it easy to eat mindlessly and not think about how hungry and full you’re really feeling. “Check in with yourself before, partway through, and after a meal,” suggests Alissa Rumsey, RD, a nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating. “Think about how your body feels. Ask yourself: Are you hungry? Feeling full? Does the food taste good? This will allow you to eat what you want and need.”
2. PACK YOUR PLATE WITH COLOR
The fall and winter seasons are known for their colorful assortment of vegetables like pomegranate, squash, beets and carrots. “Add some color to your plate with something like pomegranate,” says Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian based in California. “Focusing on making half the plate fruits and vegetables is a healthy approach to holiday plate planning alongside your favorite protein pick.”
3. EAT ONLY THE FOODS YOU LOVE
Just because mashed potatoes are present at the Thanksgiving table doesn’t mean they have to be on your plate if they’re not your thing. “Listen to your taste buds,” suggests Rumsey. “You don’t have to eat a food just because it’s there. Go for the foods that you really enjoy and love.”
4. ADD PROTEIN TO YOUR PLATE
Special occasions bring about a lot of special dishes — from Grandma’s mashed sweet potatoes to your neighbor’s signature stuffing. But make sure you’re incorporating protein along with carbs and starches. A good rule of thumb is whatever protein you choose — whether it’s turkey or a vegetarian option — should be about a fistful serving size.
5. SAY YES TO DESSERT … IF YOU WANT IT
So often we place holiday sweets n the “do not touch” category. But that actually makes us want them more, and potentially paves the way for overindulging. “It becomes more and more appealing and will be easier to overeat,” explains Rumsey. Instead, allow yourself a slice of pie or a chocolate chip cookie. Instead of being hard on yourself, remember there’s a time and place to healthfully indulge.
Originally published November 2018, updated November 2023
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