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Health & Wellness

Trimming Turkey Day Calories

Thanksgiving is typically filled with overeating. Learn to cut back on calories, not fun.

Health Matters

Bring on the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, and cranberry sauce — and don’t forget the pumpkin pie. Although Thanksgiving is typically a day of overeating to uncomfortable levels, dare to break with tradition this year. It’s still possible to enjoy favorite foods with these sensible tips.

Carve out an earlier time to eat. When dinner is at 2 or 3 p.m., we tend to skip lunch in an attempt to make room for a few extra calories. Has this ever really worked? Not in my house. By the time dinner finally rolls around, the smell of roasting turkey has permeated every pore of my skin, and I am transformed into an uncontrollable eating machine. Have a light lunch to help you keep to more civilized portions. Or better yet, move up the start of dinner to high noon –– on the East Coast, that’s immediately after Santa brings up the rear of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Cut back on the amount of food you make. Take a head count. How many pilgrims and Indians are you really feeding? I bet it’s a lot less than the first Thanksgiving. I know you want leftovers because they’re the best part of the whole holiday, but do you really need a 20-pound bird for a party of six? Make an executive decision to serve fewer dishes. It isn’t mandatory to have mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, nor do you have to serve both whole cranberry sauce and the gelatinous kind that fans out like an ostrich’s tail. And what about those pies? How many varieties have to be served for it to be Thanksgiving? (Does anyone actually eat mincemeat pie anymore?) Serve only one dessert.

Trim the amount of food you eat. We stuff ourselves silly on Thanksgiving because we’re afraid we’ll have to wait another 12 months before we can indulge in the whole turkey thing again. Try to remember that this is America. If you want a turkey with stuffing and apple pie a la mode in July, it’s yours for the asking. In fact, if we all got in the habit of repeating this meal a few times throughout the year, it probably wouldn’t have that “Last Supper” appeal to it. Challenge yourself to eat at least 25 percent less this year, and the calories and fat won’t be so astronomical.

Reduce your alcohol intake.
I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, but let’s face it — alcohol adds more calories to your total for the feast. And on top of that, spirits can make you lose your willpower. Save the first toast for when the turkey is served, and sip four ounces instead of the usual eight.

Stop the picking. If you’re like me, your first plate of turkey is quite moderate and sensible. It’s the third and fourth helpings that get ridiculous. That’s because the food becomes the entertainment. Take the turkey out of its spotlight in the middle of the table. Serve dinner buffet style and fill the table with more flowers than edibles. My favorite is to carve out a pumpkin and fill it with fresh flowers. Feast your eyes on those. Beware of cleanup, the time when most of us repeat the meal using our fingers. Serve food in covered serving dishes, which will keep it warm and then allow you to shove it directly into the refrigerator without temptation.

Cut out the loafing. Instead of watching football on the couch all afternoon — eating the leftovers during the time-outs — why don’t you gather up the crew for a family scrimmage or take a long walk? A 45-minute walk could use up almost 250 calories, a moderate chunk of the day’s eating. This is probably the best holiday tradition you could start.

Joan Salge-Blake can be reached at salge@bu.edu.