This Thanksgiving, less can be more

November 16, 2012 

The turkey's stuffed, but you don't have to be. The director of Public Health has tips for taking it easy at the table.

So your belt buckle is loosened, your appetite is whetted and your fat pants are pressed and ready to go. But for all you pilgrims who yearn for a Turkey Day that, just once, could go easier on your waistline, Los Angeles County’s director of public health has a gentle suggestion:

“Choose less,” says Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding. “Thanksgiving isn’t just about the meal.”

Fielding’s advice echoes the motto of the recent Department of Public Health campaign to educate Southern Californians about portion control.  Most adults only need 2,000 calories a day to remain healthy, and most children require even fewer. But many Americans bust that caloric budget and then some on Thanksgiving, typically packing 2,000 to 5,000 calories into a single meal, says Fielding.

“This is a day when it’s not surprising to see somebody go a little crazy,” he says. “There are, however, a couple of things you can do that may be palatable.”

Try to have an active morning. “Do a little extra exercise,” Fielding suggests. A 30-minute jog (about three miles) will work off about six ounces of turkey. Sixty sets of 10 Burpees, and it will be as if you never ate that cup of mashed potatoes and gravy. And if you get really ambitious, 20 minutes on the stairs or Stairmaster will dispense with a slice of pumpkin pie.

Don’t hit the table on an empty stomach. “Eat a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts before heading out to your gathering,” Fielding says. “Or drink a couple of glasses of water to give yourself that feeling of fullness.” Being less hungry will help you avoid overeating when you sit down to the main meal.

Set the table with smaller dishes. Use plates that are 8-10 inches for adults and 6-8 inches for kids, Fielding says. It helps your guests control their portions, and acknowledges the tendency of most people to clean their plates, even if they already feel full.

Take the serving dishes off the table. “When food is in front of us, we tend to eat it,” says Fielding. “So put the serving dishes on another table, or in another room, where you’re not looking at them.”

Start with small portions. “Just serve yourself two to four bites of whatever looks good,” Fielding suggests. “Eat slowly, and give your body a chance to enjoy what you’ve swallowed. Give yourself 20 minutes, and then, if you’re still hungry, go back.” Remember that standard portions of most foods are much smaller than the super-sized menus doled out in restaurants, and an ideal plate should be half vegetables and fruit. (Click here for a good primer.) A standard serving of poultry is 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards; a standard serving of mashed potatoes should be about the size of a tennis ball.

Hydrate. Water is one of the best beverages around, Fielding notes, and, for a Thanksgiving dinner, sparkling water couldn’t be more elegant. Even if you’re serving wine or cider, make sure it’s on the table as an alternative.

Please don’t serve sugary sodas, especially not to the kids. Q: What has the equivalent of 22 packets of sugar in it, and more calories than a second helping of stuffing? A: A 20-ounce bottle of regular Coke. Fielding says that, of all the efforts Americans make to keep their weight down, just three simple changes would make a world of difference. “Choose less, increase physical activity and reduce your intake of sugar sweetened beverages.” A single serving a day of sugar-sweetened beverages increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent.

Embrace leftovers—but not for too long. Leftovers, of course, are one of the best things about Thanksgiving dinner. They’re also a good way to talk yourself out of overeating. Have your guests bring their own takeaway containers. Or, if you’re a guest, think about setting aside part of your meal to take home and eat later.  Just remember that food shouldn’t sit out for more than two hours, says Fielding. Unlike fat pants, “leftovers don’t have an infinite life.”

Posted 11/15/12

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