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How to Enjoy Thanksgiving and Make Healthy Choices
General Wellness

How to Enjoy Thanksgiving and Make Healthy Choices

By Leslie Ely, Dietician & Dr. Laura Shultz, licensed psychologist
Posted: November 16, 2023

If you've joined the Healthier 901 movement, you've likely made changes to your lifestyle to live a healthier life. The Healthier 901 initiative challenges Mid-Southerners to lose a million pounds in three years. (By the way, you can create your official, free account at this website.) Whether you've incorporated exercise into your day or are more mindful of what foods you eat, you've likely made progress in your health journey and want to stay on track.

Enter Thanksgiving. It's the most food-centric holiday we have in the United States. Silky mashed potatoes, fluffy dinner rolls, mounds of roast turkey and piles of pies threaten to derail plans of moderation. We're here to help. We went straight to the experts, a dietitian and a licensed psychologist, for their take on enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday during a health transformation.

The Bottom line: Don't stress out if you overindulge in rich foods on Thanksgiving.

I really want to stick to my healthier lifestyle on Thanksgiving Day. How can I best be prepared?

Let's make a plan!

Healthy Eating - Plan Ahead

Eat before dinner. That's right, we're talking about eating to stick to a healthier life. When you're hungry, it's hard to make good choices. (Like why we shouldn't grocery shop on an empty stomach.)

  • Eat a healthy breakfast and lunch.
  • If you're spending the day preparing or helping someone else, make sure there are veggies to snack on, pop in a piece of gum, or drink flavored tea so you're not tempted by other less-than-ideal choices.
  • If you're traveling, bring your own snacks so that you aren't caught hungry without a healthy option.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.


If you've gotten into a good exercise routine, Thanksgiving is a great day to continue!

  • Do a Thanksgiving turkey trot, get outside with the kids or go for a walk after dinner.

Gathering with extended family and friends can sometimes increase stress, and exercise is an excellent stress-buster.

  • Getting your workout in before the family meal might help you handle stress better around the holiday table.

      Make Healthy Cooking Modifications

        • Look for recipes online that offer lighter, healthier versions of your favorites.
        • Substitute low- or nonfat dairy products for whole-milk versions.
        • Use nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream.
        • Substitute butter for apple sauce in desserts.
        • If you over-sample while cooking, pop in some chewing gum to curb the munchies.

        I want to enjoy my favorite foods on Thanksgiving Day. Is this going to set me back on my health journey?

        One day of indulgence will not ruin your diet. Remember, living a healthier life is about more than one single day – it's a journey. You can still set yourself up for success while enjoying your favorite foods.

        Choose Your Portions Well

        • Take smaller servings of heavy, high-calorie foods (think mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, and rolls). Fill the bulk of your plate with fruits and veggies.

        Know Your Temptations

        • If you can't resist chips, don't stand next to them. Be honest with yourself about foods you want to avoid and plan how to do that. Or, give yourself a small portion to enjoy in moderation.

        Take it Slow and Savor

        • Practice mindful eating. To practice mindful eating at least a few times during your meal, take a moment to close your eyes, stop talking to your friends and focus your attention completely on enjoying the tastes and textures of your favorite foods. What you'll find is you will enjoy the flavors in a much richer and more meaningful way. Some people will even choose to eat a bit less, as mindful eating results in satisfaction with fewer bites. But, even if you eat just as much, you will enjoy it that much more!
        • It takes over 10 minutes for your brain to realize you're full. Slowing down can help you eat less. Enjoy every bite.
        • If you want a second helping, wait 10 or 15 minutes, drink water, and focus on the conversation. After a break, you may not want seconds after all.
        • Don't feel pressured to clean your plate. Eat until you have enjoyed your meal, and then allow yourself to throw away any extras if you are full or no longer enjoying them.


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          I feel guilty about overindulging and eating unhealthy food, even though I had a plan going into Thanksgiving.

          Remember, Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude and celebration when we gather with friends and family to enjoy a special meal.

          • Catch yourself if you start slipping into "all or nothing" thinking. On holidays like Thanksgiving, it's easy to think, "Well, I blew my healthy eating plan with that piece of pie, so I might as well have a second or third." Instead, look at the day as a series of choices and opportunities. Even if you sample a bit too much in the kitchen while cooking, you can still choose to have only one dessert or enjoy smaller portions of several desserts vs. having full servings.        
          • Give yourself grace if the day didn't go as planned. Tomorrow is a new day, and you have the opportunity to make healthy choices for yourself again tomorrow!
          • Living a healthier life is about more than one day. You have many days, weeks and months ahead to make more healthy choices.

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