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How to Fit Thanksgiving into Your Weight-Loss Plan

If you've been working hard to lose weight, this can be a tough time of year. You've been making progress, then, boom, here come the holidays. It starts with Thanksgiving, which is just around the corner.

But enjoying Thanksgiving and maintaining your weight-loss goals don't have to be mutually exclusive. Yes, Thanksgiving tends to be an eating holiday, but if you take some simple steps, you can enjoy it without much guilt.

Here are some ways to indulge in Thanksgiving dinner without the guilt:

turkey, dressing, salads and other traditional foods laid out on a table for a thanksgiving dinner

Use it as a "cheat" day

Many people eating for weight loss use "cheat" days or meals to keep their sanity and stick with their plan. They pick one day (or one meal) a week, or every two weeks, or a month to "cheat" on their restricted-calorie nutrition. That helps them maintain sanity and stick to their plan every other day.

Thanksgiving can be a cheat day. And if you plan for it that way, you can adjust around it. If you're eating, say, 500 calories below your body's maintenance level each day (one pound of fat loss per week), how about trying for 600 below?

If you do this all the other days of the week -- skipping a slice of cheese, an egg or banana each day -- you have 600 extra calories to play with on your Thanksgiving cheat day.

But don't cheat your workout

Often, a cheat day's impact can be somewhat blunted by also making it a workout day. That way, you're burning at least some of the extra calories you're consuming.

So if you're worried about the risk of overeating later, how about an early-morning workout to start the day? You'd have an early calorie deficit, and if you eat only a light breakfast, you could be at break-even, calorie-wise, heading into your heavy meal later.

Thanksgiving can be a cheat day, but no one says it also has to be a rest day.

Avoid the dark side and its minions

Turkey can be pretty great, and it's the anchor of most Thanksgiving dinners. If you're a fan of white meat, you're in luck because it has about 13 percent fewer calories than dark meat. That might not seem like much, but if you're pigging out, every little bit helps.

That's why it's also probably a good idea to go light on the other things that go with turkey: stuffing and gravy. The typical 1-ounce serving of dressing has more than 100 calories, and gravy usually has about 30 calories per tablespoon.

So by choosing white meat and going light on the stuffing and gravy, you can save some calories and still enjoy your turkey.

A little of everything, a lot of one

The Thanksgiving dinner table can be a smorgasbord of culinary creations. Someone on a diet is likely to want to try it all.

Go ahead. If you control your portions, there's no reason to avoid one particular food or another. If you had a small amount of everything and a lot of one lower-calorie option (e.g., green beans, salad, etc.) you could satisfy your palate and appetite without going over the top calorie-wise.

Don't simply skip dessert

How many times have you seen someone devour a huge meal and then say "Oh, no, I couldn't" when dessert comes around? Every food has calories in it, and your body doesn't much care where they come from.

Eating 600 calories of turkey and stuffing is the same thing as eating that piece of pumpkin pie. From a weight-loss perspective, it just doesn't make sense to think it's OK to eat a 3,000-calorie dinner so long as you skip dessert. Don't try to justify overindulging by merely forgoing the sweets at the end.

Stay sober

Holiday gatherings are usually a time for a little elbow-bending, but alcohol has plenty of calories in it, too. Five ounces of your favorite chardonnay is more than 120 calories, and craft beer is going to be at least 150 calories.

Not only that, but a drink or two too many could lower your self-control. Once you get a buzz going, you might care less about going back for second helpings of all that food.

Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family, and food. The dinner can indeed be worrisome for someone on a weight-loss plan. By taking a few simple precautions, however, you can mitigate some of the damage and avoid some of the guilt. Celebrating a holiday doesn't have to derail your weight-loss goals.


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