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Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a diet disaster

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Nearly every time she leaves her office in Food and Nutrition Services at Doctors Hospital, Cathy Pitcher is staring down temptation.

Doctors Hospital nutrition experts Johanna Whisenhunt (left) and Cathy Pitcher say the start of holiday revelry doesn't have to be the end of your diet.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
Doctors Hospital nutrition experts Johanna Whisenhunt (left) and Cathy Pitcher say the start of holiday revelry doesn't have to be the end of your diet.

“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.


Thanksgiving and other holiday meals don’t have to be the end of a diet and the beginning of a long slide into holiday weight gain. Just follow a few rules:

• Don’t starve yourself all day and then stuff yourself at the holiday meal. Eat smaller, regular meals throughout the day.

• Getting some exercise can help burn some calories and also relieve some stress.

• Avoid the snack table, particularly higher-calorie items such as nuts and cheese that can add up quickly.

• When cooking, keep it simple and avoid overloading dishes like mashed potatoes with a lot of extras like sour cream, bacon and cheese. Some of those souped-up mashed potatoes can run 600 calories per cup.

• Fill half your plate with vegetables, not counting potatoes and corn. Filling up on vegetables can help to eat smaller portions of high-calorie items.

• Pick a few favorites of the high-calorie items and stick with those but limit the portion size.

• Watch the sauces, gravies and butter.

• Use a smaller plate to help control portions.

• After dinner, avoid going to bed or to sleep for at least a couple of hours, if possible, to help keep your metabolism up.

Sources: Doctors Hospital, Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics, American Council on Exercise

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Riverman1 11/23/11 - 04:24 am
Some of the ideas are good

Some of the ideas are good such as increasing vegs, eating multiple small meals and exercise, but the idea of cutting fat too much and avoiding such foods as cheese and nuts is bogus. Fats are very necessary in our diets for nutritional, endocrine reasons and for satiety. The latest research is showing omega 3 and 6's fats are absolutely criticial components of our diet.

Where most people go wrong and where traditional nutrition science is lagging is including too many carbohydrates in their diet. But even the dietetic associations of various kinds are slowly coming arounding. Vegs and fruits should be those with low glycemic indexes and loads. In other words, fiber can negate some of the carbohydrate insulin response.

Obesity and diabetes are growing problems with increasing evidence that Alzheimer's is a result of diabetic sequelae. Carb laden foods with high fructose corn syrup are our biggest problem. The obesity epidemic took off with their arrival about 1960. Enjoy your turkey, ham (not glazed) and vegs.

avidreader 11/23/11 - 10:18 am
IRONY: Two women standing

IRONY: Two women standing over a vat of oil ready to drop fries.

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