How to Not Gain 5 Pounds Over Thanksgiving (And Eat More Veggies, Too!)

Do you have the same love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving that I do?

I mean, I love spending time with friends and family. I love enjoying a beautiful meal and feeling flush with gratefulness for my many blessings. And I love taking a break from the everyday grind. It’s a wonderful reminder of all that’s right in the world.

But to be honest, it’s not all fluffy clouds and Thanksgiving rainbows.

Because I hate trying to resist addictive foods that don’t agree with me. Which is to say, all the fatty, wheaty, sugary, (and delicious) fare that dominates at the Thanksgiving table.  And since I’m not hosting, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be surrounded.

By Joe Hakim (Flickr: Pecan Pie) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving: Beautiful, Brutal

I think we can all agree: It’s a special kind of torture to forego—or even just eat cute little portions of—all those special Thanksgiving treats and desserts when everyone else is chowing down. Especially when, as great as family is, having them all together in one place at one time can turn even the staunchest health nut into a shameless emotional eater. (And I’m not exactly a health nut.)

For me, temptation + stress—even good stress—creates the perfect storm, one that makes me want to grab an entire pumpkin pie—vegan or otherwise—and wolf it down all by myself, thankyouverymuch.

I’m nothing if not a delicate flower.

Somehow, though, I think you get where I’m coming from. Whether you have a gluten sensitivity, a health condition you’re managing through nutrition, or you’re just trying to not outgrow your pants, Thanksgiving can be tricky.

Especially if you’re a guest at someone else’s celebration. Which is where I’ll be this year, for about 8 hours straight. Surrounded by insanely delicious food. Most of which will make me feel pretty rough if I overindulge.

Which is what I usually tend to do. (And then feel hungover afterwards.)

This year, though, I want things to be different. I want to feel good about my Thanksgiving. So I sat down with my infinitely wise mother and brainstormed strategies for not just getting through Thanksgiving, but deeply enjoying it—right down to the food! Now, my mom’s lost over 40 pounds on a mostly unprocessed, plant-based diet (go Mom!), so she knows a thing or two about how to stand your nutritional ground without feeling deprived. Here’s what we came up with—to help you and me both make it through Thanksgiving with flying colors!

4 Ways to stay healthy at Thanksgiving—without feeling deprived

Bring your own (slightly indulgent) vegetable favorite—even if you’re traveling
Thanksgiving is not the time to share your fat-free, high-fiber wheatgrass and watercress detox salad. No, your food has to stand up to creamy casseroles and buttery rolls, even if only in your mind. (You may, in fact, be the only one eating it—and that’s okay.) So bring your tastiest vegetable casserole or side. Or an appetizer you can munch on all meal long. (I vote for apple slices and pumpkin dip!) Or the yummiest salad you can think of, with a topping you wouldn’t normally use.

Rosemary Carrots and Onions – Easy and Fast!

Since I won’t have access to a kitchen, I’m going to bring my quick-and-easy fall potluck salad: Baby spinach, dried cranberries, pre-sliced apples (maybe even apple chips), and, for my decadent topping, crunchy candied pecans. Tack on a balsamic vinaigrette or poppyseed dressing, and you have one tasty salad. Is it perfectly sugar and oil free? No way. If it were, I’d abandon it in a New York minute when the sweet potato casserole came out. Instead, it’s yummy enough that I’ll be happy mounding up my plate with it, and leaving just a little space for small portions of the truly decadent stuff.

Stack the dessert table in your favor
I have a ridiculous weakness for desserts, and the richer and deadlier they are, the more I want them. So I’m going to stack the odds in my favor by bringing along a giant bowl of fruit that’s time-consuming to eat. I’m thinking clementines (all that peeling!), apples, and maybe grapes. Then I’m going to use the same strategy as at the main meal—loading up with the healthy stuff, and (hopefully) having just a single serving of the rich stuff.

By Tracy (Flickr: Clementines) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Arrange for distractions
For me, Thanksgiving usually involves my going to my husband’s enormous extended family get-together. It’s an all-day affair, and the desserts sit out from the main midday meal straight through to the tamale dinner. (What, you don’t have tamales after Thanksgiving?)

As the introverted in-law who sees everyone once a year, I definitely end up at loose ends every now and again, and I have a terrible habit of filling a plate with magnificent desserts (his family can cook!) and eating to soothe myself. So this year, I’m bringing Scrabble, cards, and my walking shoes. Hubby’s family is a pretty fun crowd, so I’m sure I won’t have trouble finding takers for games. And when in doubt, a walk beats stuffing myself sick, hands down.

Yep, that’s bring your own tea. This year, I’m bringing a box of my very favorite, most comforting herbal tea to share: Celestial Seasonings cinnamon apple spice tea. (Although their honey vanilla chamomile comes in a close second.) That way my hands can be occupied with a comforting cup of tea instead of a plate of desserts I’m way too full to appreciate anyway.

So what’s your plan for staying the course this year? Or do you give yourself the day off completely and pick back up on Friday? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


  1.' says

    Hi Lee! These sound like great strategies. Wishing you sucess. I'll be staying home and kids coming here. We are all plantaa-based so that's how we will eat together. I'm lucky that way. But if I was going somewhere I 'd do all of yours and a bit more. Since I consider staying on track a matter of life and death in my case, I would find a way to elbow myself into the kitchen to

    •' says

      Hi Maria, how great that you're all plant-based! That definitely makes it easier not just to stay on track, but not to feel deprived while doing it. I admit that I slipped some over Thanksgiving, but not nearly as much as normal, so I consider that a victory. Next year, though, I think I'll take your suggestion and nuke a sweet potato, too! (Because bringing salad helped a lot–more than

  2.' says

    Wow – thanks for all of these great tips Lee! I'm wishing I would have read this before yesterday, but I seem to have managed pretty well actually. I normally have the same issues as you – but I've been trying to really focus in general on not eating emotionally and not obsessing over food. It's finally working and I walked into Thanksgiving and didn't overeat (for maybe the first

    •' says

      Hi Kimmy, congrats on navigating Thanksgiving successfully! I know all too well that&#39;s no easy feat. :-) It sounds like you had a plan going in, and I&#39;m sure taking a long walk and playing games really helped! I ended up playing tennis instead of Scrabble, but it worked out great–for the first time in my life, too, I didn&#39;t lose it and eat until I was painfully full!<br /><br />In a

  3.' says

    I hope you had a GREAT Thanksgiving and felt good about your food choices– I really like your ideas/plans for enjoying the day without going overboard!! It was a small Thanksgiving with just the 3 of us at my mom&#39;s so we made all the food– which meant good food! I&#39;m not tempted by junky desserts for 2 reasons: 1. I make my own whole-food versions that I feel good about eating and are

    •' says

      Hi Corinne, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too! I had a wonderful day, and indulged but within reason–just enough so that I didn&#39;t feel deprived, but not so much that I felt unhappy about it. At Christmas, I&#39;m definitely going to go your route and make my own healthy, whole-food, plant-based versions of traditional favorites. (Who knows, some of my relatives might even join in!) <

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