With Thanksgiving just around the corner, anyone following a fat loss diet is going to have their willpower tested. Between office celebrations, family gatherings, and days where the sun barely seems to come out, it’s far too easy to stay in inside and disregard your fitness regimen and diet.
The tips below will provide guidance on the path of losing fat, enjoying your Thanksgiving, and maintaining sanity when it comes to making smart food choices. With that said, I can’t guarantee it’ll grant you a reprieve from your in-laws.
15 Thanksgiving Diet Strategies
The Thanksgiving holiday is notorious for imbibing and indulgence, but that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to those associations. The diet strategies below will allow you to both enjoy your favorite dishes while also minimizing your likelihood of eating a week’s worth of calories in one sitting.
Strategy #1 - Grab a Smaller Plate
Eat from smaller plates to minimize over-eating. Studies show that when children used larger plates and bowls (i.e. adult-size), they consumed almost 50% more calories during the meal. 
Although I’m not saying you should drink from sippy-cups and plates so small an espresso cup could barely fit on it, I encourage you to choose anything but the plate that’s nearly as large as a wagon wheel. It’s also psychologically more satisfying to return for seconds using a much smaller plate than it is to put everything on one plate without returning for seconds.
Startegy #2 - Load Up On Lean Meats & Veggies
Load up on minimally processed lean meats and vegetable dishes. I can guarantee you that it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to overeat steamed broccoli with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and baked turkey breast than it is to eat green bean casserole, stuffing, and fried chicken.
When I first entered the fitness world I heard the saying “No one ever got fat eating chicken and broccoli”. It wasn’t until later that I realized this is because these two foods aren’t calorically dense so the volume required to overeat these foods is substantial.
Strategy #3 - Skip the Sneaky Sauces
Watch out for added sauces, especially animal fat, oil, and mayonnaise-based sauces. Those sneaky sauces may taste amazing but may add hundreds of calories to an otherwise healthy dish.
While I do realize healthy fats are part of a healthy diet, I encourage you to be very cautious with dumping these fatty sauces on your plate. Consider placing a small serving in a dessert or espresso cup and then dip pieces of your dish to ensure you get all of the flavor and components of the dish without all the extra calories.
Pace yourself between first and second helpings. There’s a delay between consumption of food and feelings of satiety.
Strategy #4 - Don't Skip Dessert; Be Smart About Dessert
Make your dessert selection wisely. Some fitness enthusiasts may plead with you to avoid sweets all together, but I understand this is a holiday gathering.
Keep in mind these few things:
- The creator(s) of the dessert may be offended if you don’t at least try it,
- Dessert doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision, and
- Sweets are awesome.
When I’m cutting fat and at a holiday gathering, I pick 1 or 2 of my favorite desserts and place them on a reasonably small plate. That way, psychologically I feel like I’m eating a plate full of sweets, the chefs are pleased to see I’m sampling their dessert, and I’m less inclined to load up a larger plate with every dessert on the table (yes, I have done this before and no, it’s no pretty to watch)
Strategy #5 - Stick With 1-2 Servings of Alcohol
Go easy on the alcohol. Many fitness enthusiasts over the age of 21 understand the association of drinking and the holidays. Unfortunately, alcohol is devoid of nutrients and calorically dense (7 calories per gram).
Furthermore, alcohol impairs judgment and once you have an alcohol buzz, so you’re more likely to make poor food choices and overeat. If you still want to sip on some holiday cheer, stick with 1 to 2 servings of dry wines, spirits with calorie free mixers, and/or low-carbohydrate beers.
Strategy #6 - Make a Short Term-Switch to Intermittent Fasting
Employ Intermittent Fasting to control calorie intake leading up to and up to 1 month after the holiday season. Intermittent Fasting is an effective eating style for those of us, who would rather have fewer larger meals while also eating at a caloric deficit. While intermittent fasting is by no means a “magic bullet” to fat loss, it can provide both physical (potentially increase testosterone, improve cellular autophagy/cleaning, decrease ghrelin levels) and as well as psychological benefits (less time spent preparing and thinking about food).
Note: This article provides additional insight on Intermittent Fasting.
Common fasting/feasting schedules include 16/8 (Leangains), 20/4 (Warrior Diet) and 24/24 (alternate day fasting).
Strategy #7 - Eat a "Primer" Meal
Eat light before the main Thanksgiving meal to prevent overeating. If you’re prone to overeating during the main meal, eat lighter fare during the day and drink plenty of low/no calorie fluids.
For example, have 4-8 ounces of lean protein and as many steamed vegetables as you want. This low-calorie “primer” meal will provide satiety and minimize the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink attitude that many take when they starve themselves in preparation for the main Thanksgiving meal.
Strategy #8 - Hinder Fat Gain Via Supplementation
Take a nutrient partitioner or carb blocker. Products such as AI Sports Glycobol, MAN Sports Vaporize, and Molecular Nutrition Accelerant help to ensure that carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are more likely to be utilized for recovery and muscle growth rather than fat gain.
While these products are not “magic”, they can help to minimize carbohydrate absorption on a day when many dishes are carbohydrate-heavy.
Strategy #9 - Create a Nutritionally Sound Plate
Create a sensible plate. When eating a reduced calorie diet, every calorie counts.
To provide satiety without starving yourself, aim for at least 50% of your plate to be vegetables, 25% to be lean protein, and the remaining 25% to be discretionary “treat” foods. This plate framework will provide plenty of nutrients and protein without too many extra carbohydrates and fats.
Strategy #10 - Employ a Second Helping Plan
Make sensible choices for second helpings. If you decide to go back for seconds, select 1 to 3 of your favorite items and fill only half the plate with these foods. That way, you’ll enjoy the flavor of these items without overstuffing yourself.
Avoid third helpings unless it’s primarily minimally processed vegetables (e.g. steamed or baked) and a lean protein source. This framework will provide the psychological benefit of feeling like you’re eating a lot of food without consuming an excessive amount of calories.
Strategy #11 - Go With Big Flavor, Fewer Calories
Cut calories without sacrificing flavor. For example, replace sour cream with Greek yogurt, use a vinegar-based rather than an oil-based dressing, and scoop out the pie filling, ditching the pie crust, to enjoy the flavor without the extra carbs and fats.
Strategy #12 - Fill Up On Water
Drink water before, during and after meals. Water is an inexpensive, calorie-free beverage that fills you up, prevents dehydration, lubricates and cushions joints, protects sensitive body tissues, and eliminates waste. 
One study indicates that pre-meal water consumption can reduce meal energy intake, which can add up to major fat loss over time.  I typically recommend one large glass of water before, during, and after meals.
Strategy #13 - Hit the Delay Button Before Plate #2
Pace yourself between first and second helpings. There’s a delay between consumption of food and feelings of satiety. If you rush to eat, you may be more inclined to ignore feelings of fullness, which could result in overeating and fat gain.
I would wait at least 15-30 minutes between your first and second helpings to determine if you’re hungry because you’re not yet full or if you want more food because it’s easy-accessible. Additionally, chew each bite slowly and savor the flavor; inhaling calorically dense food is a recipe for fat gain.
Strategy #14 - Remove Yourself From Harm's Way
Avoid the temptation of overeating. Once you’re full or feel as though you’ve eaten enough calories, remove your plate and potentially yourself from the food area. Being in the mere presence of food, even without a plate can lead to nibbling, which can add up to some serious calories over time.
If you’re done eating and everyone else is still eating, don’t be rude by removing yourself from the table, but grab yourself a big glass of your favorite low/no calories beverage to sip on, that way you can still enjoy each other’s company.
Strategy #15 - Don't Beat Yourself Up
Don’t let one day de-rail your efforts. Thanksgiving it’s a tempting holiday for both overeating and overdrinking.
If you “fall off the wagon” on this day, don’t beat yourself up over it and get back on-track the next day. Don’t use one “cheat day” as a reason to throw in the towel and revert back to poor eating habits.
Perform a depletion workout the morning of Thanksgiving. By depleting muscle glycogen levels you’ll help to offset the increased caloric intake that's about to occur.
10 Thanksgiving Exercise Strategies
Ideally we’d treat our eating on Thanksgiving like any other day, but unfortunately the associations with this holiday typically involve inactivity, drinking, and poor food choices.
Here are a few damage-control exercise strategies you can employ before, during, and after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Strategy #1 - Deplete Your Glycogen Levels
Perform a depletion workout before the feasting bonanza. A depletion workout typically involves moderate intensity exercise (e.g. weight lifting, swimming, cycling, incline walking) performed for a relatively high volume in an effort to deplete muscle glycogen levels.
If possible, perform a depletion workout the morning of Thanksgiving, but if your schedule does not allow this, perform this workout the evening prior. By depleting muscle glycogen (re: carbohydrate for muscle cells) levels you’ll help to offset the increased caloric intake that typically occurs during Thanksgiving and prevent all those extra calories from going straight to your waist line.
If you’ve really overdone it on the eating, perform a depletion workout the evening of or following morning to bring your muscle glycogen levels back to a reasonable amount. One of my favorite depletion workouts is a bodyweight circuit for 30 minutes followed by 30 minutes walking at a brisk pace on the treadmill at a relatively steep incline.
Strategy #2 - Fuel Up, Then Smash Personal Records
Set some Personal Bests (PBs). As mentioned in the prior tip, many of us over-indulge on Thanksgiving, but you can use this to your advantage. You can utilize the extra muscle glycogen and slightly increase bodyweight to perform a higher intensity and/or higher volume workout.
I typically find myself setting strength and volume PBs the day after, which indicates that I’m at least putting the calories to good use.
Strategy #3 - Move Early, Move Often
Get involved with Thanksgiving prep. Instead of sitting on the couch all day, offer to run errands, prep, cook, and/or serve a portion of the Thanksgiving meal.
You’ll burn some extra calories from moving around, potentially learn some new cooking skills, and you’ll gain the respect of the most important people at Thanksgiving – the host(s) and head cook(s).
Strategy #4 - Help Clean Before You Sit (And Sleep)
Join the clean-up crew. Offering to help clear the table and clean the dishes after the Thanksgiving meal will burn calories and remove the temptation for you to keep sitting around and eating.
Plus you’ll gain the respect of your hosts or guests (if you’re the host), because you’re taking the initiative to provide everyone else with a relaxing dining experience while they’re in a food-coma and you’re shredding fat.
Strategy #5 - Stroll After Feasting
Take a brisk stroll post-meal. Walking for just 30 minutes will improve digestion, keep you away from the fridge, and burn 190 calories. 
This low-impact activity can help to partly offset spending the rest of the day on the couch alternating between watching football, movies, and sleeping.
Strategy #6 - Go Lumberjack Mode For a Serious Calorie Burn
Chop wood for an upper body workout and serious calorie burn. A 180lb male chopping wood for 30 minutes burns about 250 calories. 
Chopping wood works the shoulders, traps, arms, and back in ways you won’t know were possible. Not only is it a badass activity, but it gets outside away from the dining room table. The results of your activity will provide hours of enjoyment for those huddled around the outdoor or indoor fireplace.
Strategy #7 - Use Commercial Breaks to Break a Sweat
Perform bodyweight exercises during television commercials. During commercials, complete as many push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, lunges, or squats as you can with good form. If you are unable to perform reps during every commercial break, try every other commercial break.
Not only will this framework burn some calories, it will also force you to consider how “worth it” a particular show is - the longer you watch television, the more reps you’ll be performing!
Strategy #8 - Rake Leaves for a Quick 30
Get outside and rake those leaves! A 180lb male raking leaves for just 30 minutes will burn about 170 calories. 
Not only will this activity improve the appearance of your lawn or local park, but it can also provide a few hours of entertainment for the neighborhood kids and/or children in your family.
Strategy #9 - Start a Pick-Up Game
Play team-games outside. Thanksgiving provides an excellent opportunity to gather friends, family, and loved ones.
Encourage group physical activity by setting up a touch football game in the front yard, a softball game at the local park, or a pick-up basketball game. You’ll not only burn off that second helping of stuffing, but you’ll also have some fun and bond with those you cherish.
Strategy #10 - Deck the Halls
Set up Holiday decorations. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season for many Americans, so take the post-meal time to set up decorations.
This will burn extra calories, keep you from eating leftovers out of the fridge, and showing your neighbors that you’re the most festive person on the block.
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2) CDC - Water and Nutrition Home - Drinking Water - Healthy Water. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/nutrition/
3) Pre-meal water consumption reduces meal energy intake in older but ... - PubMed - NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17228036
4) Calories Burned for | SparkPeople. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/calories_burned.asp
I enjoyed reading the article. It contained some good reminders for me during the holiday season. Thanks Ryan.
Great tips. I will try my best. To watch portion size. And not overeat.
Thanks for the tips. I was able to find some things in here to consider, but most of all to be okay with whatever I end up doing. Keeping up the momentum after my holiday binge will be the most important thing, I believe.
I will try these tips. We will see if temptation wins this year.
So pretty much eat like a 5 year old.
Some great tips in there, thanks!