September 04, 2001

healthy-thanksgiving-dietThanksgiving is the ultimate test of a dieter's willpower. Do you stick to the steamed veggies and turkey sans gravy? Or are you more likely to splurge the entire day and hope for the best on Monday's weigh-in? According to Heidi Skolnik, a nutrition consultant for the New York Giants and the School of American Ballet, you don't have to make that choice. "Thanksgiving day won't make or break you. The problem is, people start splurging at Halloween and don't stop till Easter," she says.  Follow her advice for indulging the healthy way.


  • Eat breakfast. Even if you don't eat first thing in the morning, be sure to snack before the big meal. "Hunger has very little to do with what people eat on Thanksgiving, but not eating breakfast is a disaster. You'll be hungry and there's all this food—there's no chance you won't overeat," says Skolnik. She advises trying oatmeal and O.J., a yogurt parfait, scrambled eggs with toast, or even last night's leftovers.
  • Sneak in a workout. Stick to your normal routine and try to get at least a shortened workout in. If you normally exercise at a high intensity, there's no reason not to. But if you're not a gym-goer, start the day with a walk that gets your body in gear.
  • Make a plan. You can avoid overeating with easy preparation. If you're in charge of the meal, select a few filling, low-cal dishes to mix with all the casseroles, and make a smaller serving of your favorite foods. And if you're not cooking, bring a healthy appetizer so you're not tempted to hit up the cheese tray.


  • It's OK to snack. If you're like most families that eat their Thanksgiving meal midafternoon, don't be afraid to nosh throughout the morning. Skolnik suggests a small turkey sandwich, peanut butter on corn cake or celery, or hummus with carrots.
  • Start with a salad. Salads are considered diet food for a reason. They're full of vital nutrients, while not doing a lot of damage to your waistline. "With salads, you're getting a lot of volume for not a lot of calories," says Skolnik.
  • Balance your plate. Have some turkey and Aunt Judy's fresh cranberry sauce, and save room for pecan pie, but also make room for semi-healthy sides. "Have the things you love," says Skolnik. "But also have steamed broccoli and whole-grain stuffing." Choose nutrient-rich vegetables, like sweet potatoes, and the white meat on the turkey, as opposed to nutrient-empty food, like gravy, white bread, or chips and dip.


  • Forgive yourself. If you do overeat, it's OK, Skolnik says. "You'd have to overeat by 3,500 calories to gain a pound. Your overall eating trends are what create your weight and health, not one day of splurging."
  • Get back on track. With that being said, Skolnik advises not to start baking Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving, but instead going back to your healthy routine. "Have a good breakfast, go workout, and [Thanksgiving] will be forgiven. If you only splurge on one day, your body will adapt to increase calorie burn for that one day." Plan a post-Thanksgiving jog or hike for friends or family who are in town to get you out of the house and away from leftovers.
  • Send home the leftovers. If you'll be tempted by leftover pie and drumsticks, donate the leftovers to a homeless shelter or send them home with relatives. But if you're stuck with the leftovers, Skolnik suggests creating a structure, and combining only one unhealthy treat at each meal with your turkey sandwich on whole-wheat.

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