How to enjoy Thanksgiving without weight gain.


Thanksgiving is around the corner, and we are starting to see inspirational quotes like “There is always something to be thankful for.” There are also some quotes about Thanksgiving that are supposed to make us laugh. For example, “Happy Thanksgiving! Remember to set your scale back ten pounds this weekend” or “Thanksgiving, man. Not a good time to be my pants.” I wonder if you find them funny or somewhat offensive.

As a weight loss nutritionist, I’m acutely aware of how this time of the year can be challenging for my clients. With all the food temptations of this holiday, it’s undoubtedly a tough time to watch our waistline and stay true to our health goals. Reaching out and talking to someone who can offer you support and guidance, like a friend or family member, is a great strategy. 

In this article, I give you some suggestions on how to enjoy Thanksgiving without weight gain. The “What-the-hell” effect is what you need to watch out for, not the dinner. In addition, permitting yourself to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast can improve your chances of not gaining weight over the Holiday season. I will also give you six tips on how to be successful during the Thanksgiving dinner.

“What-the-hell” effect

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in her book The Willpower Instinct, describes interesting phenomena that she calls the “What-the-hell” effect. She explains that when we use self-criticism and guilt as a strategy to increase self-control, it actually backfires. As a result, we end up overeating or indulging in some other ways, more not less. It’s as if we say to ourselves: “I’ve already broken my diet, so what the hell.” 

Curiously, it’s not the initial overeating that causes the What-the-hell effect. It’s the feeling of guilt or shame or being out of control. It’s the self-criticism and negative self-talk like “I’ll never change” or “what is wrong with me?” that causes an even more significant relapse. Feeling bad about overeating will only make things worse.

Permission to indulge? You must be kidding.

Giving yourself permission to enjoy and eat as much as you like on Thanksgiving night might help prevent overindulging that day and many days that follow. It’s counterintuitive to what most people think, but that’s what study after study confirms. 

When you keep your weight loss program flexible and include celebrations in your life, you are less likely to feel deprived and resistant to the process.

How you talk to yourself after you break one of your rules has a tremendous effect on the outcome. We often believe that being hard on ourselves might help us with self-control. So we use that harsh parental voice in our head while restricting ourselves. We focus on our weaknesses and criticize ourselves, hoping that it will stop us from overeating. 

In reality, we learn from the research that self-criticism leads to less motivation and worse outcomes. Feeling bad only makes us give in. On the contrary, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion are the perfect mindset for weight loss that encourages us to get back on track with our goals. 

Thanksgiving dinner is not a deal-breaker

Your Thanksgiving dinner, one night out of the whole year, will not determine your weight. What makes a difference is what you do consistently day after day. And it’s not the overeating itself, but how you feel about it, that’s going to affect how soon you can get back on track. 

So with kindness and compassion, allow yourself to enjoy the food and the company on Thanksgiving day. 

Six tips for enjoying Thanksgiving without weight gain

  1. Start dinner with a salad or a cooked vegetable. 
  2. Make sure to make your salad dressing with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. Vinegar has acetic acid and will encourage your muscle cells to uptake blood sugar from the bloodstream a bit quicker.
  3. If drinking alcohol, go for red or white wine. Hard liquor with soda water is fine as well. Avoid beer and sugary cocktails. To slow down and easily reduce the amount of alcohol you consume during dinner, alternate each glass of wine with a glass of water.
  4. Enjoy your pumpkin or pecan pie or whatever dessert you have right after dinner instead of an hour or two later.
  5. Go on a 10-minute walk after dinner.
  6. If you are hosting the dinner, give most of the leftovers to your guests. Keep the turkey, and the gravy, and the vegetable dishes.

In conclusion

Whether you end up gaining a bit of weight or not over the Thanksgiving weekend, it’s okay. The weight that comes on over a short period is typically quick to come off as well. Assuming you are back to the regular eating pattern that you were on while losing weight. Consider it a planned break or slowdown in the weight release, and you’ll be losing weight again until the winter holidays.