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Healthy Outlook: How to survive Thanksgiving on a diet

Last Thanksgiving, your pregame ritual involved a minimal breakfast as a warmup for the big meal, elastic-waist pants and BYO leftover containers.

You chucked your self-respect out the window long enough to stuff yourself with dinner; then you regained it as you upheld your undefeated streak as the family’s champion pie-eater.

This year is different, though, and you’re not sure how to handle it. You’re on a diet and you’re doing so well; you don’t want to sabotage your progress in one day.

Here are some tips to get through, even when the going gets as tough as an overcooked drumstick.

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First and foremost: Be honest and upfront with your family.

You want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, but sometimes that’s easier said than done — Nana knows you’ve always loved her brown sugar-honey-maple-butter-frosting-bacon-glazed sweet potatoes, so what’s wrong with them this year?

Something about family tradition tends to bring out the resistance to change in all of us. Particularly when we’re around relatives we haven’t seen for a long time, it’s often easier to just follow the same old routines and avoid answering questions.

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Perhaps give GamGam a call ahead of Thursday — the sooner the better — and let her know that although you love her super-gooey deep-dish pecan pie, she really doesn’t need to make three extras for you to take home this year.

On the big day, try to let the cook know long before you sit down at the table that you don’t mean any offense, but you’re minding your diet and might not eat as much as you have in years past.

If you get that cliche response of “Why do you need to lose weight? You’re perfect,” there are other ways to explain. Tell your family members it’s not just about the scale — you want to be healthier from the inside out. If necessary, kindly (that’s the key word) remind them that they should want you at your healthiest, too.



It can be hard to pick healthy options on Thanksgiving, but remember that fresh produce ...

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Practice good habits during the big meal.

By “practice,” I don’t mean rehearse a few times with a small plate before you fill up a big one.

Dietitians pretty much universally advise and follow some of the same tips:

• Drink plenty of water before, during and after meals.

• Take small bites, chew them well and space them out, so you’re eating slowly and your brain will register when you’re full.

• Don’t make it a goal to “clean your plate” or force yourself to eat more than you feel you need to.

Related document

Turkey: Light meat vs. dark meat( .PDF )

It can be difficult at Thanksgiving especially to gauge the healthier options on the table — you might not know how everything’s been prepared or how many pounds of butter are in this dish versus that — but there are a few key pointers. Fresh produce is a great go-to. For those who eat meat, light turkey meat is lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol than dark meat. Follow your instincts: if it’s dripping grease, it’s probably not your best option.

Find a “fitness buddy” in the family.

You know that narcissistic cousin who’s been posting all the gym selfies lately? Now he’s on your team. Your niece who’s found stress relief (and amazing triceps) through boxing? She’s on your team, too.

Having someone around who has similar goals can help both of you stay on track. Maybe they’d join you for a walk after dinner — you could even invite along some of your beloved relatives who otherwise would be less inclined to get moving.

Know yourself and your limitations.



If you can stop at one slice of pie, that’s probably not going to thwart ...

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One of the hardest parts of following a healthy lifestyle for me has been acknowledging that I am pitifully incapable of moderation when it comes to desserts. If I have one cookie, I will have all the cookies. It’s a weakness, but I’ve learned to accept it.

It’s important to know yourself and make the decisions that are best for you. I am not a fan of deprivation, but I know that for me, it’s a necessity. I value my health and fitness goals more than I value dessert, and I remind myself of that — about 95 percent of the time.

If you can stop at one slice of pie, that’s probably not going to thwart weeks of effort. Don’t make yourself miserable — be thankful for your self-control. If you can’t stop, just be thankful that on Friday morning, you can resume progress. And you had pie.

About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:
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