Trying to make healthy choices during holiday gatherings can sometimes feel like navigating through a minefield. With an array of tempting treats and traditional holiday dishes, maintaining a balanced diet amidst the festive indulgence becomes a challenge.

This issue is particularly prevalent on Thanksgiving day, a time synonymous with overeating and straying from regular dietary habits. However, don't despair. With the right guidance and a strategic approach, you can enjoy your holiday meal without compromising your health.

These tips from Atlanta Bariatrics will help you make mindful choices and still savor all the delicious flavors of the season. Our experienced dietitians can provide tailored advice and guidelines to ensure healthy eating during the holidays, without missing out on the joy of festive treats.

Why It's Difficult to Stick to Healthy Choices

There are several factors that contribute to overeating during holidays, making it challenging to stick to healthy choices.

The social aspect of holiday celebrations often leads us to eat more than we normally would. We may feel obligated to try every dish on the table, and a traditional Thanksgiving meal is often loaded with rich, high-calorie dishes. For many, the centerpiece turkey is surrounded by an array of side dishes, and the meal often ends with a generous slice of pumpkin pie, making it easy to consume far more calories than intended.

Additionally, holiday gatherings tend to have larger portions and buffet-style servings, making it easy to mindlessly pile our plates. The excitement and joy associated with these occasions can also cause us to disregard our usual dietary restrictions. In short, the smells, sights, and overall festive atmosphere can easily trigger overeating and derail our healthy eating plan.

Moreover, fluctuating blood sugar levels can also play a role. Many people believe that skipping meals earlier in the day can compensate for the high-calorie intake during the holiday feast. However, the opposite is true. When you skip meals, your blood sugar levels drop, causing intense hunger and leading to overeating.

Practical Tips for Making Healthy Choices

Here are some practical tips for a healthy Thanksgiving day and holiday season:

  • Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you're full. If you rush through your meal, you're likely to eat more than necessary. Take small bites, chew thoroughly, and enjoy the variety of flavors on your plate.
  • Bring a healthy dish. A great way to ensure that you have a healthy option at the gathering is to bring one yourself. For instance, instead of the traditional green bean casserole, bring a simple dish of steamed green beans with a sprinkle of almonds for extra flavor and crunch. Find some of our dietitian-approved recipes here.
  • Substitute healthier alternatives. Replace high-fat ingredients with healthier options. For example, use Greek yogurt instead of butter or cream in your mashed potatoes.
  • Remember portion control. Use a smaller plate and resist the urge to go for seconds. Just like you would on any other day, ensure that your plate has a balance of lean protein, whole grains, and plenty of colorful vegetables.
  • Keep moving. Try to maintain your regular physical activity. A brisk walk or a game of touch football before or after the holiday feast can help you stay active.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help control hunger and stay hydrated.

Strategically Navigating the Buffet

When it comes to a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner, strategic planning beforehand can help you maintain a healthy balance. Remember, the goal isn't to deprive yourself, but to make mindful decisions that satisfy your palate and meet your nutritional needs.

Start by scanning the entire buffet table before picking up your plate. This way, you'll have an overview of all the available options, which will help you prioritize your choices and plan your big meal effectively.

Prioritize lean proteins and a variety of colorful vegetables. For example, the turkey, which is usually the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal, is a great source of lean protein. Opt for a small portion of turkey, and fill at least half of your plate with vegetables. Vegetables are not only nutritious but also high in fiber, which can make you feel full faster and help prevent overeating.

As you navigate the buffet, be wary of foods that are deep-fried, loaded with cheese, or bathed in heavy sauces. These dishes are typically high in calories and saturated fats. A sweet potato casserole, for instance, might be loaded with marshmallows or excessive amounts of butter and brown sugar.

Instead, opt for foods that are baked, grilled, or steamed. So if you spot roasted or mashed sweet potatoes in the buffet, go for them! They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Lastly, remember that it's okay to have leftovers. Just because it's a buffet doesn't mean you need to try everything in one go. If you find yourself feeling satisfied halfway through the plate, it's perfectly fine to stop eating. You can always return for more if you truly are still hungry later on.

Dealing with Peer Pressure

It's not uncommon to face social pressure during holiday gatherings, with well-meaning friends and family encouraging you to 'just try a bite' of their homemade pecan pie or urging you not to worry about your diet for just one day. However, it's never wrong to maintain your boundaries and stick to your healthy eating plan.

One way to handle peer pressure is to prepare your responses beforehand. Decide on polite, non-confrontational responses to common prompts like 'Just one slice won't hurt.' You could say, 'Your pecan pie looks delicious, but I'm watching how much dessert I eat.' Politely declining food doesn't mean you're disrespecting the host or hurting their feelings.

When possible, opt to serve yourself rather than accepting a portion served by someone else. Remember, it's your plate, and you're in control. If there's pressure to fill up your plate or try every dish, it can be helpful to remind others—and yourself—that you want to savor your food and make room for different flavors.

Moreover, redirecting the focus from food to the event's social aspect can divert attention from your eating habits. Keep the focus of the gathering on catching up with loved ones, sharing stories, and making memories. Compliment the host on their wonderful choice of decorations or music, for instance, to shift the conversation away from what's on your plate.

Lastly, remember that you're making choices for your health and well-being, and you have the right to stick to your dietary preferences. Don't let peer pressure sway you from your goals and remember to enjoy the holiday season in a way that works for you.

Get Help from Atlanta Bariatrics

Staying committed to a balanced lifestyle during the holidays may seem like a daunting task, but remember holidays are a time for celebration, relaxation, and enjoyment. Indulging in a few festive treats or missing a couple of workouts doesn't mean you're off track. It's about making conscious decisions and understanding that it's okay to treat yourself occasionally.

One meal or one day doesn't define your health journey. What matters is how you balance these indulgences with healthy habits. So, enjoy the holiday flavors you love, savor each bite, and don't let guilt overshadow the joy of the season. It's the overall pattern of your eating and physical activity habits that contributes to your health and well-being.

At Atlanta Bariatrics, we understand the challenges of maintaining a balanced lifestyle during the holiday season. Our team of qualified dietitians is here to provide additional support and guidance to help you navigate the complexities of holiday eating and have a healthier Thanksgiving. Whether it's personalized advice on portion control, healthier alternatives to traditional dishes, or support dealing with social pressure, we're here to help.

Ready to feel happier and healthier? Call (770) 232-9252 today to schedule your first consultation with the weight loss surgeons and specialists at Atlanta Bariatrics. We can’t wait to help you take the first step!