Holiday Feast Strategies

When I was in a weight loss program years ago one of the students shared that he’d gained 10 pounds on Thanksgiving one year. Before you scoff and say that’s impossible, if you look at the math it is actually possible. 10 pounds = 35,000 calories, give or take. If you start off early with a big French toast, hash browns, egg and sausage breakfast, drink some egg nog or hot chocolate, snack on mixed nuts all morning, eat a hearty lunch, snack on candy, cookies, cheese and crackers through the afternoon, then top it off with a large Thanksgiving feast and several slices of pie, followed by a late-night refrigerator raid… yeah, it would be a stretch but it’s not impossible. I don’t think anybody reading this blog would fall into that sort of pattern, but if I think back to the time when I was at my heaviest, yes, gaining several pounds on Thanksgiving or Christmas was completely feasible. So having a strategy is a really good idea.

Here are some ideas, some of which I will be using this year, some I have used in the past. I’m putting them all out here in the hopes that they will spur ideas so you can find something that works for your situation:

  • First things first, I always plan to get some exercise in the morning before festivities begin. I like to get it out of the way and get into a healthy mindset before I go to a feast.
  • I try to timebox the feasting into a limited time slot, so that food isn’t tempting me all day long. I usually end up as a guest for these events, and I try to arrive close to the time that the meal will begin.
  • I don’t show up hungry. Yes, I’m going to eat but I actually want to have some control over what I choose to put on my plate, so arriving hungry isn’t a good plan. When I’m not ravenous I can pick and choose what I want to enjoy and leave what isn’t worth the calories.
  • I take small portions, and I fill my plate primarily with supportive options. I don’t get seconds, and I share dessert with my husband or another willing participant. I try to remember that this meal, while special, is merely a meal, and I will stop eating when I’m satisfied. And usually, lean meat is the main course, so building a plate full of lean meat and veggies is easily doable.
  • I try to bring something to contribute that will be supportive for me, a veggie-based dish I like. A tray of veggies for the grazing portion of the get-together is another good option.
  • I designate certain foods as safe foods I can eat all day long, like that veggie tray, or a fruit plate. I can eat as much as I like of these all day long, so any time I feel like snacking, I know what to grab.
  • I keep a non-caloric beverage in my hand when not at the table. This keeps my hands busy. If my other hand is wandering, I find something else to keep it busy, like taking pictures or petting a cat.

So, what are you strategies? How will you manage the overwhelming food situations coming up in the next few weeks? I’m particularly interested in how people who actually have to cook for one of these feasts will manage their weight – what will you do to keep your health and managing your weight a priority?

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11 Responses to “Holiday Feast Strategies”

  1. Bluezy Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share this. I appreciate this post. Going for some exercise like a walk will surely help with the mind as well. A house full of relatives can be stressful.

  2. Beth Says:

    You wrote: “I don’t think anybody reading this blog would fall into that sort of pattern,”

    Unfortunately I would fall into that pattern, I’m a binge eater and can gain weight very rapidly, I recently gained 60 pounds in 3 months. So 10 pounds on a holiday weekend would be easy for me. My top weight is not as high as yours, mine is 245 pounds but still I can gain weight very rapidly.

    Thanks for your posts, I always enjoy reading but haven’t ever commented. Best wishes for the holidays. I’m so glad that here in the UK we don’t have Thanksgiving to add to the festive food season!

    • Laina Says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve always been a steady “eat everything that isn’t nailed down every day” eater, so I don’t have the binge eating perspective. Thanks for setting me straight, and please come and comment any time, I appreciate your viewpoint!

  3. Yoko Olsgaard Says:

    I’m always bringing 1 lean meat dish (chicken sausages sliced up and sauteed with onions and red bell peppers and a plate of veggies to grab. I’m doing the Atkins eating plan so this is a big help. I avoid everything else because it’s not worth eating it. I have lost 10 pounds now and I’ll be damned if I gain it back now. If it happens to be something I cannot live without and dream about (Dena’s oyster stuffing) I will have 1 small helping and eat it very very slowly and savor it. No seconds. Nothing else is really worth it except maybe my own pumpkin pie and that I can always make. I do plan to get off my no-carb wagon on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it will be a controlled stop-off so that I don’t completely undo everything I have worked so hard for. And I am only going to eat things I can’t cook, that’s home made (a lot is from Costco at these parties) and for the most part, on my eating plan. If it isn’t, I will have a very small portion (enough to give me a good taste) and eat it very slowly. We are talking mouth-gasms here – and I will be thinking of Brad Pitt as Death slooowly eating a spoonful of peanut butter in Meet Joe Black. I will be savoring every single bite and will not waste myself on stuff I can always eat any time. So that means no M&M’s or potato chips, no taquitos from Costco, no guacamole, no chocolate chip cookies or egg nog but I will very likely try a tiny bit of something home made by a good friend who is known to be a good cook. Just to taste it. I’m thinking of the holidays as going to a wine tasting. I’m going there to taste, not get full. I can get full later on safe foods. They will be in my cooler or fridge. And the cooks will get an earful from me about how wonderful the food was! I hope you are able to get through the holidays with minimal damage. I am planning on it and plan to be victorious. I’ll be thinking of you, Laina! You inspire me.

  4. Trystan Says:

    Ugh, I have the problem of being required to go to *two* Thanksgiving dinners this year (happened last year too — my husband’s grandparents are very elderly, thus he wants to take every opportunity to spend a holiday with them). I insist that we will not eat at the first one, & of course, everyone there insists that we do. Any suggestions? Maybe just eat simple veggies at the first one? They’re about 3 hours apart…

    • Laina Says:

      Ooh, that’s hard. Could you eat really small meals at both of them, sticking to lean meat and veggies? Or your idea to just eat simple veggies at the first one, then eat normally at the second one is great too, if you don’t have any food pushers to deal with. Will you get a chance to go for a walk in between, or is it all driving? A walk is a nice way to reset and get some fresh air on a busy hectic day – sometimes you can get family to go with you and make it a big group walk. People like that. 🙂 Good luck, do your best, and don’t worry too much if it’s not perfect. Nothing’s perfect, but getting up and trying again is the goal.

  5. Trystan Says:

    Driving between them just to make it on time! But hopefully the first group will be mellow on the food pushing — I seem to recall that one other of the couples has 2 dinners to attend as well. Love the families, hate the over-complications!

  6. Donna Says:

    Trystan, you might want to try Yoko’s strategy … small tastes of the stuff that’s worthwhile. Little bites. Eat slowly. This way you don’t insult the cook and don’t do too much damage. No one is invested in the store bought pre-packaged stuff, so stick to the yummy home-mades … especially if the soon to be missed grandparents have certain specialty dishes that will form part of your good memories of them.

  7. Andie Says:

    I’m 53 pounds into losing at least 80, and have been thinking about Thanksgiving for a month. We’re skipping the family meal to eat with some friends, both of whom are foodies but both of whom know that I’ve been working really hard to lose weight. Several of the dishes we’re preparing are going to have ingredients that I’m allergic to–I joked about doing it, but they, not knowing I had joked about it, planned it that way–so I won’t be tempted to eat them! I’m bringing a huge veggie platter with a Greek yogurt dip, a salad with spinach and arugula and vinaigrette on the side, and a couple of desserts. Desserts are my specialty, but I can resist anything but chocolate, so no chocolate. Easy enough. I’m also thinking I may wear some pants that are just a touch too tight so I have a reminder not to eat too much – better to be a bit uncomfortable than to wear some of the pants that are very loose on me now. I’ve bought a case of sparkling water to contribute to the bar so I can spoil myself with fizz. And, I’m bringing some little craft projects to work on in a room other than the kitchen so I’m not hanging out around food. We’re also going to show up pretty late in the day, right before the meal starts, to miss the grazing and prep. I’ve even thought about the fact that we’re going to have a very big group at a relatively small table, so once everyone passes the food, I’m going to just carry it into the kitchen “to give us more room to see each other” but really to make it harder to just scoop a little more of this, a little more of that onto my plate.

    Basically, I’m thankful that I’ve finally found the time, energy, and method to take better control of my health & eating, and I’m not going to sacrifice that for one meal!

  8. Blitz Wrap-Up! | Keeping Off 200 Pounds Says:

    […] finally, I found today to be a good time to re-read my article on Holiday Feast Strategies. With Thanksgiving bearing down upon us, bone up on strategies for dealing with all the rampant […]


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