Reframing Thanksgiving to Stay on the Weight-Loss Bandwagon

Family at the dinner table at the Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving comes with mixed emotions for many of my patients. The ones with cardiac conditions have to constantly be on top of their weight and monitor their diet closely. But for most of them, Thanksgiving is about the opposite. It’s about forgetting that diet for one day and eating a few of the things you’ve been staying away from for the entire year. Feeling accountable to your health while also wanting desperately to participate in the festivities can be a serious challenge. More often than not, Thanksgiving wins out over healthy eating.

I know that my patients aren’t the only ones who struggle with these opposing goals during the holiday season. Tomorrow, many of you will reunite with family and friends who will have put hours into the preparation of a meal for your enjoyment. While you might have been good about your diet all year, you’re going to arrive at that Thanksgiving table wanting nothing more than to throw all restrictions out the window. For many of you, like my patients, Thanksgiving will win over whatever healthy pledges you may have made.

I know I talk a lot about strategies to keep yourself on track while resisting temptations like those you’ll face during Thanksgiving. Those still apply here. But at the same time, it’s important not to be too rigid with the rules. The risk to being too stringent in your rules for Thanksgiving is that when you “fail” by having a piece of pie or going back for a little more stuffing, you risk giving up altogether. I want to help you recognize that a single day isn’t going to change the course of your weight-loss goals, as long as it truly is just one day.

Here’s the story I heard over and over again: After doing my Two-Week Diet, you decided to keep up the weight loss by eating healthier and exercising often. But after wrestling with your emotions for half an hour, you’ve found yourself finished with a big piece of pie. Many say, “That’s it. I blew it. I guess there’s no point to even trying anymore so I might as well just eat whatever at this point.”

But look at how a change in perspective can take that same situation in a completely new direction. Instead of giving up, say “A single slice of pie doesn’t change all the work I’ve put into myself over the last few months, and it certainly doesn’t change my resolve to continue those changes.”

Thanksgiving conflicts with your weight-loss goals only if you think of it as an all-or-nothing game where a single episode of unhealthy eating nixes any past progress made. Reframing it as another opportunity to learn how to adapt your new healthy lifestyle to different settings gives you back control. There are ways to make Thanksgiving “healthier,” while still enjoying it as much as you have in previous years.

  • When faced with an enormous spread, get a sense of what’s available before filling your plate up. Several studies have shown that surveying the scene first helps you decide how much to load up on of what you want.
  • If you’re planning to bring something, use it as an opportunity to make a dish you love and feel good about eating.
  • Lots of desserts? No problem. Remember, you can have dessert occasionally as long as it’s moderated. Pick up a small plate and take small portions of each one you’re interested in trying. By doing this, you’ll get a flavor of each without the bellyache of too much sugar.
  • Afraid of how much you might eat? Come up with what you think is a realistic plan for the day. The key here is being realistic. You’re almost certainly going to have turkey, several sides and dessert. But decide how much you’ll have and whether or not you’ll get seconds ahead of time.

Enjoy your family and friends and have a great Thanksgiving.