Your guide to enjoying the holidays without the guilt (or weight gain)

Thanksgiving dinner kicks off the holiday season with an estimated whopping 4,500 calories and 229g of fat.  It’s no wonder that holiday weight gain is a common concern. This is a season to celebrate with friends and family, which often means feeling the pressure to put dieting on hold until January.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Years Day can easily become one long “cheat-day” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some strategies to combat seasonal weight gain without feeling left out.


Lighten Up Your Favorites

Enjoy your favorite holiday meal by altering some recipes to contain less saturated fat, sugar and carbohydrates.  Small changes made throughout the meal can add up to hundreds of calories saved at the end of the day.

  • Substitute buttermilk for milk and butter in your mashed potatoes (don’t let the word “butter” fool you. Buttermilk is a low-fat soured milk)

  • Substitute evaporated skim milk for the full fat version to make pumpkin pie

  • Use sugar substitutes in desserts (Note: not all sugar substitutes can be used for baking and they are not a 1:1 swap with sugar)

  • Substitute baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon Instead of candied sweet potatoes

  • Replace some starchy side dishes (i.e. potatoes, stuffing, candied yams) with non-starchy vegetables such as roasted cauliflower, steamed broccoli or a mixed winter salad

  • Try new recipes that give you familiar flavors with a twist such as a low-fat pumpkin mousse


Portion Sizes

Sometimes pecan pie is pecan pie and there is not much you can do to lighten it up without changing it into something unrecognizable.  When all else fails there is always portion control, a strategy that will help to maintain your weight long term. When faced with non-negotiable foods on the holiday table just eat less. Savor it.  Assess your hunger before going for seconds. Food doesn’t taste as good when you’re full anyway.

It helps to understand common portion sizes so here are a few examples:

  • Mashed potatoes: ½ cup

  • Turkey: 3-5 oz

  • Pie: ⅛ of pie (tip: pre-cut pie into 8 slices)

  • Stuffing: ½ cup


Let’s not forget the best part…Leftovers

As if one 4,500 calorie meal wasn’t bad enough, the leftovers keep us celebrating Thanksgiving for several days.  Stretch your meals by morphing Thanksgiving leftovers into healthier options.

  • Add vegetables to balance a meal of leftover turkey and one portion of stuffing or mashed potatoes

  • Make turkey sandwiches using whole grain bread, low-fat mayonnaise and lettuce or top a salad with the turkey

  • Freeze desserts in individual portions so you are not tempted to over indulge


The “On” or “Off” dieting mentality contributes to weight fluctuations.  Try to enjoy the holidays without feeling like you are “cheating” by eating smaller portions, making healthy swaps where you can and getting regular exercise.  Thanksgiving is just one day so enjoy it! But remember, the holidays come every year. You can look forward to having your favorite dishes again next year.

Nick VanMeter