How to enjoy Thanksgiving without weight gain.


As a weight loss nutritionist, I’m acutely aware of how this time of the year can be challenging for you. With all the food temptations of this holiday, it’s a tough time to watch your waistline and stay true to your health goals. You might have little confidence that it’s even possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without weight gain. Especially when you hear things like “Happy Thanksgiving! Remember to set your scale back ten pounds this weekend”.

Believe me, Thanksgiving without weight gain is a realistic goal. Here are some strategies we’ll discuss: 

  • Watch out for the  “What-the-hell” effect, not the Thanksgiving dinner itself
  • Allowing yourself to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast and get back to your regular eating
  • Thanksgiving dinner is not a problem, but the Holiday season might be
  • 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 an interesting phenomenon 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 for being out of control. The self-criticism and negative self-talk like “I’ll never change” or “What is wrong with me?” causes an even more significant relapse. Feeling bad about overeating will only make things worse.

If you break your rule(s) on Thanksgiving day, how you talk to yourself will affect 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 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 is the perfect mindset for weight loss that encourages us to get back on track with our goals. 

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. 

You can set new rules for yourself for this one day or abandon all restrictions altogether. Decide on your eating for Thanksgiving dinner and go with it.

Thanksgiving dinner is not a deal-breaker

Your Thanksgiving dinner, one night out of the whole year, will not determine your weight long-term. How you eat most other days of the year makes a difference. So with kindness and compassion, allow yourself to enjoy the food and the company on Thanksgiving day. And return to your regular eating and lifestyle routine the following day.

It’s possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without weight gain as long as it’s just one or two days. Most problems arise when you stretch the celebrations till Christmas and call it a holiday season. Let’s keep the holiday spirit in our hearts, spend quality time with people we love, and be grateful for the many blessings we have in our lives. 

Six tips for enjoying Thanksgiving without weight gain

  1. Unless you decide to put your self-care routine and eating rules aside for the duration of Thanksgiving Day (or the whole weekend), create a new set of rules for the occasion. Think of your favorite foods/drinks and set some boundaries around those. For example, I’ll have one slice of pie or one serving of mac & cheese.
  2. Serve yourself a beautiful plate of food, as much as you want, but once.
  3. Start dinner with a salad or a cooked vegetable. 
  4. 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 reduce the amount of alcohol you consume during dinner, alternate each glass of wine with a glass of water.
  5. Go for a walk after dinner.
  6. If you are hosting, give most of the leftovers to your guests. Keep the turkey, the gravy, and the vegetable dishes. And if you are a guest, say no to leftovers, especially desserts, stuffing, potato, and sweet potato dishes.

In conclusion

Whether you gain a bit of weight or not over the Thanksgiving weekend, it’s not a big deal. The weight that comes on over a short period is typically quick to come off as long as you return to the regular eating pattern. Consider it a planned break or slowdown in the weight release, and you’ll be losing weight again. And please reach out if you need support and guidance.