From delectable hors d’oeuvres and heady adult beverages to rich main courses and decadent desserts, Thanksgiving food traditions entice us all. The pleasure is only enhanced, in most cases, by the opportunity to share them with special friends and family.
But for Mainers watching their diets, the food-fixated Thanksgiving holiday can also bring anxiety and the threat of sabotage to carefully developed eating plans. And while some people slim down for cosmetic reasons, for others a conscientious food plan is an essential daily practice that aids in the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.
“Some people have some very specific dietary concerns,” Mikiko Marzilli, a clinical dietitian at the Eastern Maine Medical Center Surgical Weight Loss Center in Bangor, said. “They can get nervous about the holiday … and about people asking them questions about why they’re not eating specific foods.”
For example, she said, people who have undergone weight-reduction surgery may only be able to consume tiny portions or completely avoid rich foods such as pie or gravy to avoid becoming acutely ill.
Other people with chronic illness have a strict salt limitation, are unable to tolerate fatty foods or have other serious diet considerations, she said.
At Thanksgiving, not only are calorie-dense foods lurking around every corner, often for days on end, but social habits and expectations can contribute to the difficulty, according to weight-loss expert Jackie Conn, general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine for more than 20 years.
“A lot of people are afraid going into [the holiday] that they’re really going to blow it,” said Conn, who lost more than 40 pounds herself and has kept them off through years of holidays, family celebrations and the usual stresses of life.
“Being assertive and saying, ‘No, thank you’ with a smile can be hard to do,” Conn noted. “It’s not a bad idea to practice in front of the mirror.”
In addition to asking guests directly about any food concerns, consider:
— Providing a lighter, lower-salt version of the traditional holiday feast and add low-calorie options such as a fresh green salad, with dressing on the side, to the menu, Marzilli suggested.
— Allowing guests to serve themselves at a buffet or by passing platters at the table, rather than dishing up servings at the head of the table. That helps people control portions and caloric intake, she said.
— Eating a healthy meal or snack before arriving for a holiday feast. “Don’t get there hungry,” Conn said. “And wear something that fits, with a real belt or a waistband, nothing stretchy.”
— Imagining what you will eat, in small portions, so you will not feel entirely deprived of the special holiday treats you enjoy. “You can say no to the chips and dip, because that’s not special,” Conn said. “But maybe there’s a wonderful cheese ball there, and that is special. So you tell yourself, ’I’m going to have three crackers with a little smear of that cheese ball and I’m going to be satisfied with that.’”
— Plan ahead to serve yourself modest portions of the meal you love, Conn said. Three slices of turkey is plenty, plus half-cup servings of high-calorie favorites like mashed potato and stuffing.
“That’s half the size of a tennis ball,” Conn said. “But maybe you can have a whole tennis ball of squash, because that’s packed with nutrients and you’ll feel like you’re having a treat.” End your holiday meal with a small slice of pie — or a sliver of two different pies — “because this is a special occasion,” Conn said.
— It’s easy to seriously undermine your diet by drinking more alcohol than you intend. One 4-ounce serving of wine delivers about 125 calories — almost one-eighth of Weight Watchers’ recommended total daily calorie intake for women. Drinking can lower your resolve, too, making it more likely that you’ll eat too much of the wrong foods and regret it later. “If you’re going to drink at all, have one drink and then switch to seltzer or a fruit-juice spritzer so you still feel festive and like part of the group,” Conn said.
— For some families, Conn said, enjoying Thanksgiving at a restaurant is an effective way to both enjoy favorite foods and limit their availability. “It’s just a one-shot deal with no leftovers,” she said.
Marzilli and Conn said it’s tough to get through Thanksgiving without breaking your diet rules. If that happens, they agreed, don’t try to compensate by fasting or cutting back drastically afterward.
“Just put it behind you,” Conn said. “The very next meal, just get right back on track with your plan.”
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