8 Surefire Ways to Avoid Thanksgiving Weight Gain

Medically reviewed in September 2021

If Thanksgiving usually has you secretly loosening your belt before the pumpkin pie is served, you're in good company -- the average American consumes a whopping 3,500 calories with this dinner alone. While we're not remotely suggesting that you diet on turkey day, wouldn't it be nice if, just once, this tradition-blessed binge didn't send your resolve spiraling down -- and your weight soaring up -- for the rest of the holidays? We know. We've been there. That's why we figured out a way to indulge in every course without breaking the 1,000-calorie barrier.

1. Go for light, white meat. This part is easy. Turkey breast is already super lean: just 44 calories, 1 gram of fat, and no saturated fat per skinless ounce. Plus, the big bird is a great source of iron, zinc, potassium, and B vitamins. Eliminate drumstick temptation by serving a breast ready for slicing. Or, if you do cook a whole turkey, roast or bake it -- don't even go near a deep fryer.

2. Add gravy that has more flavor than fat. Two choices: 1) Make yours using low-fat, low-sodium broth rather than drippings from the roasting pan; 2) If drippings are a family requirement, stick them in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Chilling makes it easier to skim off fat before using the juices to make gravy.

3. Stuff your bird with whole grains. Bake the stuffing separately so it doesn't soak up grease from the bird (safer, too, say the bacteria police -- ensures that the stuff gets cooked all the way through). Instead of boring white bread crumbs, wow your guests with a whole-grain mixture. Try the slightly nutty flavor of quinoa, rice pilaf, or a bulgur stuffing with dried cranberries and hazelnuts. You won't save calories, but you'll gain oodles of antioxidants plus fiber, iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins -- and compliments.

4. Add a touch of green. Okay, green bean casserole may be retro-hip, but you can cut calories in half by boiling fresh beans until just tender and then seasoning them with just a touch of olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Sounds simple, but the flavor's amazing. And you'll get fiber, protein, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, K, and B6.

5. Don't forget the superberries. Cranberries contain a powerful group of free-radical demolishers. But skip the canned sauces, which are jammed with added sugar (about 44 grams and 170 calories per inch-thick slice).

6. Potayto, potahto. Family and friends may disagree on the pronunciation, but they'll agree on the virtues of these delicious spuds. These delicious mashed potato recipes are savory, speedy and have less fat and calories than traditional mashed potatoes.

7. Watch the liquid calories. Even tiny trimmings add up. For instance, stretch one glass of white wine (about 120 calories) to two by mixing it with bubbly water (half of each) for a white wine spritzer.

8. Oh my, don't skip the pie. You can trim more than 100 calories and 7 grams of fat from a slice of pie just by forgoing the crust. Try this pumpkin spice custard. It has all the flavor of pumpkin pie without all the carbs and added sugar.

No regrets. Turning a 3,500-calorie gorge into a 981-calorie feast that still spells Thanksgiving with a capital T? Priceless. So is avoiding that horrible postholiday encounter with the bathroom scale. And there's a long-term payoff as well: Maintaining a constant desirable weight, rather than roller-coasting through the holidays, can make your RealAge 6 years younger.

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