Nearly every time she leaves her office in Food and Nutrition Services at Doctors Hospital, Cathy Pitcher is staring down temptation.
“Crinkle-cut fries,” she said, laughing, or any of the other tempting things the hospital’s kitchen dishes up. She bravely began a diet a couple of weeks ago and, like millions of Americans, is worried about facing down the Thanksgiving feast.
With all of the high-fat, high-calorie traditional fare at Thanksgiving meal, “we easily can get our calories over 3,000 per meal,” said Sam Ellefson, a registered dietitian with Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.
But like Pitcher, it helps to go in with a plan to avoid overdoing it.
Pitcher calls it “moderation not deprivation.” She knows she has already been asked to make the traditional dishes the family enjoys but she will just enjoy small portions of them.
“It’s OK to have a few bites of things you know are loaded with calories,” Pitcher said, if you then fill up on healthier fare like salads and fresh vegetables.
Picking and choosing can be important for enjoying the holiday responsibly, said Johanna Whisenhunt, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at Doctors.
“Just get your favorite things that you’re really going to miss if you don’t have them and stop there,” she said.
Limiting the casseroles and steaming vegetables instead can help cut down on the unhealthy choices, Ellefson said. And making healthier substitutes in other dishes – fat-free sour cream for regular sour cream, for instance – can make a difference, Whisenhunt said.
“Just trying to get rid of some of those extra calories that you won’t miss,” she said. “Then you don’t feel like you’re being deprived.”
Using smaller plates can help avoid overloading the meal and when you’re done, remove the plate rather than letting it sit there and be tempted to keep eating, Ellefson said.
“When you’re done, you’re done,” she said.
If you are going for seconds, give yourself at least 15-20 minutes to make sure you are still hungry, Ellefson said.
“Because it does take that long for your brain to realize that you are full, because it is a hormonal thing,” she said.
If you do overeat, Whisenhunt said it is important to not let it become a long-lasting slip.
“If you just do that one meal and go right back to what you are trying to do, I think you will end up more successful,” she said.
But very few people seem able to do that, Ellefson said, so the best advice might be not to allow yourself to cheat.
“It’s just better to try and stay on a steady course,” she said.