When Thanksgiving is Scarier than Halloween: Two Resources for the Calorie Conscious

Thanksgiving. Just thinking about it makes the button on my pants give way. I am a weak woman when it comes to a good feast, and I will eat until I am downright uncomfortable--and then maybe throw in a piece of pie.

Unfortunately, that strategy has led to some painful lessons, and as I get older I find myself less able to overindulge in food the same way I am less able to overindulge in booze; both cause a massive hangover. In some ways, the food hangovers are worse--at least I can eat myself out of a booze hangover.

Holidays like Thanksgiving also pose challenges for those of us who are trying to maintain or lose weight. I know some people like to throw caution to the wind on holidays, but that plan just doesn't work for everyone--certainly not for me. Sure, I still overindulge, but by making healthier foods and healthier choices I avoid total caloric meltdown.

Here are two of my secret weapons for keeping Thanksgiving manageable.

Eat This, Not That Eat This, Not That might be a gimmick, but it's a successful one. The line of Eat This, Not That books and articles--written by editor-in-chief of Men's Health, David Zinczenko--cover a variety of food substitutions designed to help people make healthier food choices. With titles like Supermarket Survival Guide, The Best (and Worst) Foods in America, and Eat This, Not That! For Kids, along with the general guide Zinczenko updates yearly, the franchise is incredibly popular and is often cited in diet and fitness magazines. Naturally, Men's Health online has an entire section dedicated to the Eat This, Not That concept.

I knew Thanksgiving was calorie-laden, but this Men's Health "Top Swaps for Thanksgiving" made me a little queasy. The article cites the caloric-intake estimate for Thanksgiving given by the Calorie Control Council. Care to guess how many calories the average American will eat on Thanksgiving? Seriously, any guesses?

The answer is 4,500 calories. FOUR THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED CALORIES. Oh, and 229 grams of fat. That number is stunning. I happen to think it is entirely possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without eating 4,500 calories in one day, and I can't speak for anyone else, but I know would enjoy it more if I didn't. So what are the Eat This, Not That Thanksgiving swaps?

• Choose white turkey meat over dark turkey meat, and skip jellied cranberry sauce for homemade to cut calories, sugar, and fat. • Cook up a healthier green bean casserole by skipping the mushroom soup, and skip the stuffing entirely to shave calories and fat. • Enjoy mashed potatoes with turkey gravy instead of candied sweet potatoes. • Go for a dinner roll instead of reaching for the buttery cornbread. • Pick pumpkin pie instead of pecan (I think I just heard thousands of Texans gasping) to shave calories, sugar, and fat.

Not willing to part with your favorite, be it stuffing, dark meat, or pecan pie? Just eat less. Or pick one indulgence and then make healthier choices for the rest of your plate. There is no way I would give up stuffing cooked in the bird, so I usually opt to skip on any kind of bread, and eat salad instead of green bean casserole.

"Healthify" Your Recipes

One of my favorite online recipe resources is "Eat Better America." I found the website several years ago when I was still living in Alaska, and a white wedding dress loomed on my horizon. I admit to not being much of a home cook, and I found this website at the beginning of my journey toward being able to do more than boil pasta. It has been an invaluable tool for me, particularly when looking for healthier versions of favorite dishes. I don't always follow the recipes exactly, but I like the tips and the substitution suggestions. Some of the recipes are downright incredible, like this one for Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins.

Having attended a lot of potluck Thanksgivings (and Christmases), I have had the opportunity to test-drive some of these recipes, particularly the side dishes. Generally when a recipe calls for something canned I try to substitute fresh to reduce the sodium even further. The recipes are basic, so I also tend to go crazy seasoning with herbs and spices to customize them to our tastes. Here are a few that were especially successful:

Warm Caramelized Vegetables (Potatoes & Asparagus, or Green Beans): This one was a huge surprise, as I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but I loved it. I think this would be a nice sub for candied sweet potatoes. • Tangy Onion Flowers: These are pretty and fun. Kind of like the blooming onion from Outback Steakhouse but not, you know, trying to kill you. • Sweet Potatoes with Apples and Onion: Very light and fresh, but definitely needs zing. I love adding lots of crushed red pepper and paprika. • Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls: Considering all the butter and fat at the Thanksgiving table, a little extra fiber may go a long way. • Pumpkin Desserts: Ranging from Pumpkin Panna Cotta to Pumpkin Crème Brulee, there are dozens of healthy recipes to satisfy the craving.

Look, you don't have to strip your entire Thanksgiving buffet of butter, sugar, salt, and calories, and I'm not advocating a Thanksgiving dinner comprised of steamed-broccoli, served with unseasoned boneless/skinless chicken breasts. But I know I'm not the only one on the lookout for ways to keep Thanksgiving on the reasonable side of 4,500 calories, and I'm hoping some of you will have some tips to share for making Thanksgiving less gut-busting, but still delicious.

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