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How to Feast Wisely: Tips & Tricks for Thanksgiving (and Other Holiday Meals)

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Holiday feast

We’ve all been there: that 10/10 fullness after a gigantic holiday feast.

One minute we’re eagerly ladling mounds of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing onto our plate...

The next, we’re lying on the couch lamenting the fact that we’ve over-indulged. And there’s still dessert to eat.

The sheer quantity of food that is put in front of us during Thanksgiving makes eating in "moderation" tough.

Generally speaking, portion control goes completely out the window during the last two months of the year; however, there truly are plenty of  practical ways to enjoy all of your favorite foods without getting to that intense stage of stuffed.

In this article, you'll learn my top tips for staying in control during Thanksgiving and other holiday mealsand most importantly why they really work.

Tip 1: Start with a written plan the morning of Thanksgiving.

daily habits journal

The morning of a big holiday feast, decide how you really want to feel after you're holiday meal. Put a name to it. Next, write out everything you plan on eating the next day. I'm talking all meals and snacks. If you don't know what will be served, ask or guess based on what you like to eat. But write it out. Include all your favorite holiday treats that are 100% worth it to you - foods that, if you didn't eat them, you would feel "cheated" out of the holidays. Similarly, consciously omit anything that you don't think would be worth it for you.

Do this in the morning when you're feeling the most empowered to make good food decisions.

Note: This is not a "diet plan." I still want you to include all the holiday foods that make the day special. This is simply non-restrictive framework for you to follow to the next day. Because here's the next step: stick to that plan - no deviations. This means that if you purposely leave off the stuffing (or dressing as my southern husband calls it), you've made that decision and it's up to you to follow through on the day of.

Why it works: A non-restrictive plan allows you to enjoy your holiday favorites while staying in-line with your overarching weight loss goals. Writing down that plan makes your good intensions concrete. This is a science-backed strategy that gives you much needed structure without feeling like you're dieting or missing out. You still get to enjoy the "worth it" foods you love, while also making conscious mindful decisions that will leave you feeling proud after the meal. You'll have the most positive mindset and self-control in the morning before the food is in front of you, so make these decisions then! Do not wait until you're already hungry or exhausted from cooking. Self-control is at an all-time low by that point.

Tip 2: Trick your brain with the plate.

Small plate

I’m talking about the physical plate size. Human nature instinctively tells us to fill our whole plate with food. We feel like we’re missing something when there’s empty space, even if the plate is gigantic. that being said, my recommendation is switch to a smaller plate. Think salad or dessert sized.

Why it works: This tricks your brain into thinking there’s more food on the plate than there actually is. You’ll instinctively feel more satisfied when you fill it.

Tip 3: Spoon out bites, not servings.

When we put a large volume of food on our plate, we're generally compelled to eat it all just because it's there (or pick at it after we're full).

If you follow through with my first tip, you’ll have a much smaller surface area to work with and will therefore have to limit the amount of each food you put on the plate. Start by serving yourself the volume of just 1-2 bites of each dish. That way you get to try a little bit of everything, but there’s less of a chance you’ll over-indulge.

Why it works: By limiting the volume of each dish to 1-2 bites, you won’t have that extra volume glaring up at you saying, “eat me!” You're more likely to actually stop when you're full


Tip 4: Eat your favorites first.

Seasoned holiday potatoes

Don’t save the best bite or favorite dish for last – eat it first! That way you can truly enjoy the foods you love and have a better chance at stopping when you're satisfied...before full. We usually enjoy the first bite of anything the most anyway.

Why it works: By eating the “best bite” or our favorite dish first, we’re less likely to keep eating after we’re full because we've already enjoyed the best part.

Tip 5: Don’t bother with appetizers.

Appetizers on thanksgiving

I know this may be controversial, but I recommend skipping the hors d’oeuvres before a big holiday meal. They’re tempting but tend to be quite indulgent and not what we’re truly craving out of a holiday meal. Plus, regardless of whether we eat the appetizers, we generally still consume a full plate of the main attractions. I recommend just focusing your attention on the dishes that you really want to eat and ignoring the rest.

Why it works: You avoid wasting tummy space on foods you don’t love or that aren’t worth it.

Tip 6: Do not skip meals beforehand.

Egg on toast with avocado

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they avoid eating all day to “save room” or “save calories” for a holiday meal. The obvious result is that by the time they get to the big meal, they’re so hungry that they go way overboard in an almost mindless “get food into me now” kind of way.

When you skip meals with the intention of a feast later, you put yourself in a binge mindset so there’s almost no way to avoid overindulging. Additionally, you’re likely to experience feelings of fatigue and “hanger” during a day…which does not bode well for a day with the in-laws 😜.

My advice is to eat a healthy, protein-centric breakfast that sets a nice base layer. If your holiday meal is late in the day, have a light lunch or mini meal around midday as well that is centered around vegetables and protein.

Why it works: By eating light protein-rich meals before a big holiday dinner, you’ll experience a healthy amount of hunger while still maintaining control of your choices.

Tip 7: Get some exercise

Women running together

Exercise the day of a holiday feast goes beyond calorie burn. In fact, I strongly recommend against exercising for calorie burn (most people overcompensate with food after doing that).

The purpose of exercise is to bring you energy, endorphins (happy brain chemicals), and an empowered attitude, all of which make good food choices a lot easier.

The exercise you choose doesn’t have to be anything intense, but get in at least 30 minutes of some form of exercise in the morning before you start the cooking process. Consider a group Turkey Trot to keep things social!

Why it works: When you exercise, you get a release of endorphins, which will help you feel positive and confident for the day. That makes you much more likely to stay in control of your food choices. Plus, even if you overindulge, you’re less likely to get down on yourself. The closer the workout to the meal, the more empowered you'll feel to make good food choices.

Tip 8: Repeat this mantra: More will not make the food better.

If you hate the feeling of being stuffed, but also find yourself doing it anyway because the food tastes so good, this tip is for you. 

When you start to reach that pre-full satisfied feeling, slow down and really enjoy each bite of food. Then, before you go back for more helpings, tell yourself this powerful reminder: this food tastes really good…and more will not make it better.

The reality is that you already know what the food tastes like, and going back for more will not enhance that experience.

From a brain chemistry perspective (nerdy info alert), you’ve already experienced a maximum dopamine hit from the delicious food. Although your brain will send you powerful signals in the moment to eat more in hopes of recreating the dopamine surge, it never works.

Eating more will not improve the taste and will not bring more joy. So before you go back for a second plate, take a moment to be honest with yourself - the food does taste amazing…and I’ve already immensely enjoyed the flavors. I can always set some aside for later if I want it.

Why it works: This mantra reminds us that holiday food enjoyment lies in quality, not quantity. I’ve found that “more will not make it better” rings very true for the majority of my clients. It not only fosters extra enjoyment from each bite, but also helps to override the strong sabotage attempts from your dopamine-seeking brain. It will help you appreciate the food without overindulging, promoting a healthier and more enjoyable holiday experience.

Tip 9: Enjoy and don’t deprive yourself!

Happy family at thanksgiving

All things considered, Thanksgiving (and Christmas) is just one meal of many that you will enjoy over the course of a year. Please enjoy the day and the delicious foods you love. If you’re trying to lose weight or form healthier habits, know that not every day has to be perfect, and that is okay! That's part of a balanced life.

Why it works: Depriving ourselves of foods or experiences we love sets us up to feel crappy and makes us more likely to go overboard later when we hit our deprivation limit.

Happy holidays!

Do you struggle to stay consistent in weight loss or find yourself constantly regaining the same stubborn weight over and over again? Forget the empty New Years weight loss resolution you know you'll probably break and instead, start the year off with a solid, proven plan you can actually stick to AND accountability to keep you on track. Register for a complementary consultation call to see how I can help you achieve your weight loss, fitness, and healthy lifestyle goals.


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