1. Eat high–fat. Fat may have calories, but it’s also very filling. There’s a limit to how much of it you can eat before you feel full. In fact, if you eat some foods containing fat, you may end up consuming fewer calories overall, because you won’t be as hungry later. So, if you’re going to have a turkey, go ahead and eat the skin, the dark meat, and the gravy, and if you eat dairy, use whole milk and cream in your cooking. See my article on Understanding Fat for more on this subject.
2. Look for an organic, free–range turkey. If you eat meat and poultry, it’s important that it come from a healthy animal. Most turkeys are raised on “factory” farms where they’re crammed into small cages with hardly room to turn around. These animals, which don’t get their exercise, are fed on corn and soybeans instead of their natural diet. Because they’re sick, weak, stressed out, and overfed, they’re given lots of antibiotics to keep them going. It’s cheaper to raise turkeys this way, but it’s not very humane or healthy. Free–range turkeys are much less prone to sickness and more likely to eat their natural diet (which includes plants and insects), which means that they have a healthier fat profile. You also don’t have to overcook them out of fear of bacteria! See my article on Animal Products for more information.
Organic turkeys can be more expensive because they’re farmed on a small scale, so it may not be feasible for you to get one. However, if you can make room in your budget, it’s definitely worth the extra cost.
3. Include plenty of vegetables. It’s not just what you don’t eat, it’s what you do eat that counts. Vegetables contain fiber and natural compounds that help us to burn and break down fat. Onions, garlic, greens, green beans, celery, daikon radish, leeks, cabbage, etc., are all great vegetables that can serve this purpose. Save some of your vegetables for the end of your meal, because that way they can help break down the heavier food you ate first.
4. Complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Simple carbs include white flour, corn syrup, and sugar, and products with these ingredients. Complex carbs include whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, cornmeal, quinoa, millet, barley and buckwheat. They also include sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates too, but not quite as nutritious as the sweet vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are more filling, digest more slowly, and give you steady energy. Simple carbs get absorbed into the blood all at once, are stored as fat, and leave you hungry for more. Try using whole grain bread or real whole grains for stuffing (see recipe below), and include a side dish or two with naturally sweet vegetables.
5. Don’t use processed foods that have added sugars; instead, make your own dishes. Most simple carbs and other processed ingredients come in pre–made food like stuffing or pumpkin pie mixes. This is where the real weight gain comes in. Food companies process foods to make them less filling and more addictive, deliberately guiding you towards overeating. Whenever you can, make food from scratch using real, natural ingredients. See my article on What is Processed Food? to learn more.
6. Don’t eat between lunch and dinner. Or breakfast and dinner, depending how soon you’re eating the main meal. Most people gain weight by snacking in between meals. That’s when we’re most likely to eat processed foods, and to eat a lot of calories without realizing it. Wait to eat until you’re sitting down to a balanced dinner that includes something from every food group. Trying to fill up before dinner is the worst thing you could do—the homemade, balanced meal is what you want to save yourself for! You won’t overeat at dinnertime, even if you’re hungry, because you’ll be eating food that’s truly filling.
7. Chew, eat slowly, and enjoy your food. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when we’re full. So eat slowly and enjoy every bite. The more you chew, the less work the rest of your digestive system has to do, and you will get more nutrients out of your food (this means you’ll actually benefit from what you’re eating). By going slow, you’ll give your body a chance to tune in to whether it’s full or not. If you really savor your food, you’ll get the important taste satisfaction—without it, you may keep eating whether you’re hungry or not.
The above is my challenge to those who claim that the one time you sit down to dinner with your family over a home–cooked meal is when you’re going to gain weight. Nonsense! It’s only when processed foods and snacks take predominance over the actual Thanksgiving meal that the weight gain starts. So, instead of trying to cut down on the main dinner, indulge in that and cut down on everything else. You’ll feel fuller and be lighter at the same time!