Healthy Living

Your Thanksgiving Weight Loss Guide

Gravy-drenched drumsticks, buttery mashed potatoes, and gooey pecan pie – mmm, they are all scrumptious around the holidays…until you think about what they might do to your waistline.

If you are feeling some fear about the upcoming holiday feasts, let me reassure you that it is 100% possible to enjoy your fall favorites, without sabotaging any progress you have already made. All you need is a little bit of know-how!

Most of us have a Thanksgiving Day routine.

We eat until we’re stuffed, then fall asleep on the couch, and wake up in the fourth quarter of some football game. Right?

Well instead, if you are looking to make your Thanksgiving meal align more with your weight loss goals, here are some tips you can implement to approach it a little differently this year.

1. Eat Before the Big Meal

Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all manner of side dishes

On Thanksgiving, many people may forgo breakfast to “save room” for a feast in the evening.

While this might make sense to avoid packing on pounds this holiday season, eating a small meal in the morning has been shown to give you more control over your appetite.

Connie Diekman, a Registered Dietician and former president of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), says, “Eating a nutritious meal with protein and fiber before you arrive takes the edge off your appetite and allows you to be more discriminating in your food and beverage choices.”

You might be just like me, though; you love how much effort everyone puts into making one big feast, and want to try everything.

However, to resist these ravenous feelings, start your day with a small but satisfying breakfast, such as an egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast, or an IdealShake meal replacement shake.

These options are calorie-controlled and will help you stay on track during the indulgent holiday dinner.

2. Dress to Impress

Hey there, pretty girl, this tip is for you.

Save those stretchy sweats, oversized sweaters, and other comfy clothes for another occasion.

Instead, break out a form-fitting garment, like skinny jeans or a curve-hugging dress.

At least for me, when I am dressed to impress for Thanksgiving dinner, I feel a little less sloppy and a little more proper, and a little more in control about how much I eat, and how fast I eat it.

If you’re wearing something slightly snug, you’ll be less likely to overeat because you will start to feel uncomfortable more quickly. If you can make it through the day without having to undo the top button of your pants, consider yourself in good shape.

3. Join the Clean-Up Crew

Some dirty dishes in the sink

As comfortable as the living room couch may sound after a hearty meal, offer a helping hand in the kitchen!

One hour spent clearing the table, sweeping the floor, and washing dishes can easily burn about 100 calories.

Not only will you feel happy, but so will your host!

4. Draw a Clear Finish Line

Once you’ve consumed your fair share of food, reach for what you might call your “meal ender”.

Be picky about this, as you want your last bite to be something satisfying that appeases your cravings so you won’t continue snacking long after meal-time is over.

Whether your last bite is your favorite pumpkin pie or a slice of fluffy cornbread, cross your finish line by sucking on a strong mint, brushing your teeth, or even reapplying your lip gloss.

This will help those tasty flavors disappear, and may even make certain foods taste bad, so you’ll be less tempted to pick at whatever food is still in front of you.

5. Lighten Up

A table full of thanksgiving side dishes

This tip leads us in a few different directions. One way is lighter portions; the other is lower calorie ingredients.

First, lighter portions. Whether you are doling out your own portions, or you’re at the mercy of someone else passing out plates piled high with “a little bit of everything”, knowing which foods you should be eating more of (and which you should only enjoy a few bites) will help you make the best possible choices. Start by filling up on veggies, then turkey breast, and leave what appetite you have left for starchy sides.

Second, lower calories. If you are hosting or bringing a few dishes to share, make your recipes with less fat, sugar, and calories. Some suggestions for your Thanksgiving Day cooking include:

  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar or purees
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles

6. Drink Water

The quickest (and easiest) festive season suggestion: drink plenty of water, both before and during your meal!

Our minds often interpret thirst for hunger, so filling up throughout the day will curb cravings, keep you feeling full, and prevent you from overeating.

7. Beware the Sneaky Calories

A slice of bread with some butter

This includes veggies, dressings, and drinks.

Unless you prepared them, that fresh-out-of-the-oven pan of green beans or homemade ranch dressing could easily be loaded with sneaky ingredients like margarine or sugary sauces.

Not to mention, a scrape of butter on your dinner roll or a dollop of whipping cream on your apple pie.

All of these are great ingredients, but it’ll help you if you put maybe one spoonful on top instead of two.

8. Get Your Groove On

Let’s be realistic. This time of year is for celebration!

Between busy schedules and so many extra temptations, this is a good time to strive for weight maintenance instead of weight loss. If you shift to this mindset, you will be ahead of the game.

That said, “eat less and exercise more” is the winning formula to prevent weight gain during the holidays.

Prior to your buffet, create a calorie deficit by taking a walk early in the day and then again after dinner.

You can also play a game of family football in grandma’s backyard, or shoot hoops with your kids outside.

It doesn’t have to be something overly active, but anything to get you moving is a terrific way for you and your family to get physical activity, and enjoy the beautiful fall weather.

9. Scoop on the Sides…But Sparingly

A basket of fresh homemade rolls

Can’t limit yourself to one small scoop of those buttery spuds? Don’t worry, me either.

How about those yummy little bread crumbs baked with sage, onion, cranberry, salt, pepper, and celery? #WorthIt.

Or Grandma’s flakey, homemade rolls? Yep, forget it –  I’m a goner.

But before you sit down at the dinner table and serve yourself more than you need, arrive to your dinner party with a few favorites that you plan to indulge in.

Thanksgiving dinner is a big meal, and it can be a lot to consume in one sitting.

However, if you place skinless white turkey meat on your plate first, because it’s relatively low in calories and high in protein which keeps you fuller longer, then you can choose your “special” sides that you only see around the holidays.

The trick is to keep their servings to a half cup.

Want those buttery spuds or even the flavorful yams? Go for it! Just be sure your serving looks similar to half the size of a baseball.

10. Take the Road to Recovery

If you find yourself feeling stuffed and sluggish after your Thanksgiving feast, take heart.  You enjoyed Thanksgiving!

It’s a time to be with your family and friends and a really important holiday for us to enjoy being together, but it’s also important to get your mind right.

Do not associate holiday celebrations with food guilt. If you eat more calories than you planned, just get back on track the next day.

Stay hydrated, especially if you consumed something super salty. Eat balanced meals and snacks that contain all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein), and get the leftovers out of sight.

Moving extra food into the freezer will help you return to your normal healthy eating routine over the next few days.

Track your calories, calm your stress with daily physical activity, and surround yourself with positive mantras. Some of these might be, “progress, not perfection,” or “tomorrow is a new day.”

Also in the famous words of Taylor Swift, just “Shake it off!”

How Many Calories are in Thanksgiving Dinner?

Americans, on average, consume anywhere between 3,000 to 4,500 calories at their Thanksgiving meal.

It makes sense, though, when we’ve waited all year to savor these delicate dishes, and our first instinct is to pile on the food.

To help you be more aware of what you might be eating on Thanksgiving, here is a dish-by-dish generic nutritional guide for all the traditional items:


A lovely roast turkey

One serving of white meat turkey is 3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of playing cards, and contains 177 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 30 grams of protein.

The same serving of dark meat has 206 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 27 grams of protein.


A single serving of stuffing is close to the size of an ice cream scoop, adding about 195 calories to the plate.

Sweet Potatoes

A sliced sweet potato

Four ounces (or 1 medium sweet potato) of homemade candied sweet potatoes adds 187 calories, but the main problem is that sweet potatoes are also high in sugar.

Although they do contain some natural sugar, it’s only about 7 grams.

This serving of sweet potatoes has 20 grams of sugar, meaning that 13 grams, or about 3 teaspoons, of sugar is added.

Mashed Potatoes

One cup of mashed potatoes made with whole milk, butter, and salt adds 237 calories to your dinner plate. For a lighter version, try using lower-fat milk, or replacing some of the butter and milk with lower-sodium chicken broth.

Green Bean Casserole

Some green beans

Ah, the classic dish with dreamy cream of mushroom soup and crispy fried onions. It’s a crowd favorite. However, it comes in at 227 calories for a half cup serving. That’s a pretty large calorie investment, considering that half a cup of plain green beans has only 20 calories!


A 3×3-inch square adds about 198 calories to your dinner. Add on a pat of butter, that’s easily another 35 calories and about 4 grams of fat.


Some gravy on some turkey

The good news: store-bought gravy only adds 25 calories per ¼ cup ladle.

The bad news: it’s high in sodium (about 250 mg per serving), so don’t go overboard with your gravy boat!


Yes, most likely you will (or did) consume more than your body needed at Thanksgiving dinner.

But, one meal certainly won’t trainwreck your goals, just like one meal won’t get you immediate results.

Simply enjoy it, and jump back into a positive routine and your body will quickly recover from all that turkey! Gobble, gobble!

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andy haigh

andy haigh

Writer and expert

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