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How to Avoid Eating 4,500 Calories on Thanksgiving

Dieters, despair: Thanksgiving is coming. Or don’t. With some advance planning, you can get through the calorie-laden holiday without a noticeably bigger belly. According to the Calorie Control Council, which represents diet food and drink companies, the average person eats around 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving.

“It’s one big meal where you’re sitting around with your family eating,” says Mandy Unanski Enright, a Red Bank-based registered dietitian nutritionist.

If you’re concerned about overdoing it, Enright, who is also the nutrition media spokeswoman for the New Jersey Dietetic Association, has some suggestions for you.

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1. Start Getting into Good Habits Now.

Enright says, “It’s not really a matter of waking up on Black Friday and then saying that you’re gonna go to the gym, but really starting to get into these healthier habits now. If you don’t currently have any type of exercise program that you do, or watching your eating patterns now, this is a great time to really start getting into good habits.”

2. Don’t Fill Your Plate.

“For example, when you’re having a meal, are you watching the portion sizes that you have of a typical dinner? Or are you just kind of filling up your plate as you go? Because you’ll go to a big meal such as Thanksgiving dinner, where you tend to lose track of what you had, or how much that you’re eating,” Enright says.

3. Get Moving.

“If you’re somebody who is sitting in a car all day, you’re sitting at a desk all day, you’re really not getting a whole lot of movement in. So making an effort throughout the day to try and get movement going. Taking a walk around your work, taking an extra lap around the grocery store. Parking further away. All those little things that can create a little bit more demand on the body to use energy.”

How to Avoid Eating 4,500 Calories on Thanksgiving

4. Choose Wisely.

It’s not only about the foods you pick on Thanksgiving — it’s also about how these foods are prepared. “You’re taking green beans and you’re turning it into the green bean casserole, which is a very different form of green beans. The turkey itself, any type of protein is a great thing to have, but again, you always want to watch how much you’re having. Anything that we overeat can cause weight gain.” Gravy and butter add even more calories, says Enright. Also, “I love potatoes, but for whatever reason there always seems to be three or four preparations of potatoes, at least at my Thanksgiving dinner.”

5. Lighten Up.

Try healthier versions of the classics, Enright says. Mashed potatoes can be made with chicken stock instead of butter and cream. Instead of bread for the stuffing, use fiber-rich whole grains. Instead of green bean casserole, roast vegetables with olive oil and seasonings. Thin out gravy with water or low-calorie broth, and add fresh fruit to the desserts list. Or, check out our list of Thanksgiving recipes that offer a lighter take on the usual holiday favorites.

6. Come Prepared.

“I try and eat extra-healthy the day before,” says Enright. “I do eat breakfast the morning of Thanksgiving, because nothing’s worse than going to a holiday meal on an empty stomach where you’re then going to overeat. And then when I go to Thanksgiving, it’s a matter of pacing myself and watching what I’m having. And then of course, like any good guest, I make it a point to get up, help out in the kitchen, move around, and not just sit there.”

7. Don’t Overdo the Guilt

“You ate a meal. Enjoy it, but don’t feel that it completely offset any attempts you’d been making prior. It’s one day. It’s one meal,” says Enright. “Maybe have a lighter breakfast or some lighter meals the next couple of days, and maybe make an effort to get moving.”

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