How to Enjoy Thanksgiving Without Gaining Weight

How to strike a balance and love our annual feast day.

You gotta admit how screwy Thanksgiving can be for many of us. In a body-obsessed culture, we have one annual holiday reserved for a ritual feast, and we spend our time at the table preoccupied — not by family gossip, that glorious gourd display, or the slammin' beaujolais neauveau — but about the calories in Aunt Alison's sage-and-sausage stuffing, a turkey wing, and that rich bourbon-spiked gravy.

"It's like, really?" writes Virgie Tovar. "We have a nationally sanctioned holiday dedicated to eating one of the biggest remaining species of birds covered in butter and we're seriously talking about calories right now?!"

We like to take a healthy approach of enjoying ourselves and not losing our HIIT-trained minds. Here, some tips on how to strike the balance and love our annual feast day.

Move Your Body

Whether it's a Turkey Trot or a walk around the block before another slice of pumpkin pie, make an effort to move a bit during the day. If you plan in before the meal, all the better, says Mike Roussell, PhD on Shape. "By being active in the morning, you'll improve your insulin sensitivity, making your body more ready to handle the calorie onslaught later that day."

Give Yourself "Unconditional Permission to Eat with Attunement"

This phrase comes from Intuitive Eating co-author Evelyn Tribole. Sounds like go hogwild…kind of? What Tribole espouses is to give yourself total freedom to eat—whatever, whenever—with mindfulness to your body's cues, including hunger/fullness cues, and how certain foods make you feel.

"Rather than judging yourself for eating certain foods, work to mindfully pay attention to how your body is feeling during the meal," writes Jennifer Rollin, MSW on Psychology Today. "Check in with your body and intuition to decide what food looks good to you and then try to savor it mindfully."

Eat the Meat You Want

White meat is healthier someone said once, and we've all been repeating it ever since. But the New York Times begs to differ: white turkey meat contains only slightly less fat and fewer calories than dark meat. In fact, an ounce of boneless, skinless turkey breast has only one gram less of fat and 4 fewer calories than a dark-meat thigh. If it's the dark meat you like, by all means, share the leg with Uncle Morty. (Dark meat has more to offer on the iron, zinc and riboflavin, fronts, among others. So there.)

Focus On—and Enjoy—the Moment

Can you really focus on what's happening when the turkey emerges from the oven, when everyone says what they're thankful for? If you can practice mindfulness in the moment, you're more likely to enjoy the meal for what it is—one meal, not a 72-hour fridge raid.

"The 'holiday creep' is where most people get into trouble," Roussell said. "Thanksgiving is technically one big meal. Keep it that way. You risk diet disaster when you let yourself continue to eat like it's Thanksgiving on Friday or even Saturday. Enjoy yourself on Thursday and then get back to your plan."

"Instead of throwing all healthy behaviors out the window from October to December and swearing to be 'perfect' come January, take steps to engage in the healthiest behaviors that you can, given the constraints of the holiday season," advises Deborah Balfanz, PhD, who teaches a group behavior change/weight management class . "If you do that, you should have no trouble surviving the holiday season, and you might even enjoy yourself and actually thrive."

Chew (A Lot)

Like, 30 to 40 times. It may sound like a lot, but the long chew will slow your pace, allowing you to really enjoy your food. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who chewed their food 40 times instead of the average 10 to 15 ate nearly 12 percent fewer calories, Runner's World reported. You also give your brain and body time to realize you're full, which can help you put that fork down once and for all. Today, anyway.

Try Intermittent Fasting

It's not for everyone, but you might consider offsetting Thursday's feast by eating about two-thirds of your daily calorie in the days before the holiday, which studies show can help keep weight gain in check. Runner's World suggests reducing your calories by 30 to 40 percent of your normal intake in the lead up to Thanksgiving. Bonus: Scaling back may also help you from overindulging on the feast day, since days of smaller portions may help you feel satiety sooner.

Don't Comment On Anyone's Food Consumption Or Bodies—Including Your Own

"Are you really going to eat that?" and "Are you sure you want seconds?" are the kind of fat- and food-shaming comments that belong at no table of Thanksgiving.

"These comments are deeply rooted in fatphobia and they can also contribute to disordered eating practices," writes A. Lynn at Everyday Feminism.

Be mindful of not using the body as a barometer for, well, anything. Self-loathing serves no one. You might think it's an innocent comment about the size you're wearing, but in a culture obsessed with weight and women's bodies, there's no such thing.

"When girls hear their mothers say something like, 'Ugh, I feel so fat in these jeans,' their minds automatically go to, 'Do I look fat?' and fat shame is affirmed."

"Comments like these, whether they're directed inward or outward, still sting. They're reminders of the ways, subtle and overt, that those around me judge my body and their own. Comments like those rank everyone in the room, making us products of an assessment system none of us created. None of us benefit from it. Still, most of us perpetuate it," writes Your Fat Friend.

Even positive comments further the f'ed-up scale and reaffirm a beautiful body as the harbinger of a woman's worth.

"If you want to tell someone they look beautiful or happy, then go for it. But do not draw attention to their bodies specifically."

Volunteer to Help Clean Up

You've been lounging around all day at this Bacchanalian feast. Why not put the pie down and pitch in? Your host will be grateful, and all the good gossip tends to go down in the kitchen anyway. The pie will be there when the dish rack is full.

Be Grateful

Hello, it's what we're here for! If you can't get people to do it verbally at the table, take time to commit your own list to paper.

"This Thanksgiving, I challenge you to write a list of all that you are grateful for (including all of the things that your body enables you to do)," writes Jennifer Rollin. "After all, diet-talk, shaming food and body comments, and self-hate truly has no place at a Thanksgiving table."