The focus of Thanksgiving should be about spending time with family and friends, but food often takes center stage, says Molly Morgan, R.D., C.N.D., author of The Skinny Rules (April 2011). "Before you sit down to eat, remind yourself what the day is really about besides the mashed potatoes!" Then think about what you want to devote your calories to so it's easier to keep portions in check overall. You can avoid busting your belt with these other simple eating tricks.
1. Eat like normal. A common mistake even smart eaters make is restricting calories all day as license to eat as much as you want come Thanksgiving dinner. "The bottom line is that you're going to end up stuffing yourself and feeling really uncomfortable," says Keri Gans, R.D., C.N.D., author of The Small Change Diet (2011). Start your day like any other day with a well-balance breakfast, eat a light lunch, and have a snack of yogurt or a handful of nuts to keep the focus off of eating and on socializing.
2. Make smart swaps. "You can easily modify traditional Thanksgiving dishes and your guests won't even know the difference," says Gans. Don't cook stuffing in the bird to cut fat and calories, and replace each whole egg with two egg whites and save 30 calories per serving. When making mashed potatoes, trade heavy cream for whole milk to keep the creamy taste while saving 168 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving (that's 1342 calories and 72 grams of fat overall!). And resist the urge to add shredded cheese—a cup has about 455 calories.
3. Have your meat. Contrary to popular belief, dark meat really isn't that much higher in calories than light meat, says Gans. Eat whatever colored meat you want, but avoid the skin since that contains the most fat—you'll save more than 50 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving. Double that amount if you have a larger portion or go for seconds.
4. Don't deny yourself. When you're faced with all of your favorite foods, nobody says they are off-limits. The trick is to fill up your plate one time with anything at all that you want, really enjoy what you're eating, and then not going back for seconds, says Gans. If the host is pushing you to have more, simply say, "No thank you—the food was delicious but I'm so full." He or she won't be able to argue with that.
5. Just say no to leftovers. "Nobody ever got fat from one day of over-indulging—it's the domino effect of thinking you've already blown your healthy-eating plan so you might as well keep eating that leads to weight gain," says Gans. Avoid the temptation to eat high-fat foods all week long by politely refusing to take leftovers home. If you're the one hosting dinner, be sure to have plenty of plastic containers on hand so you can give them to guests to take away.