Weight Loss & Diet

Can I Lose Weight If I Have a Cheat Day on Thanksgiving?

Can I Lose Weight If I Have a Cheat Day on Thanksgiving?
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

In this article:

  • The average Thanksgiving meal can have 3,000 calories. Appetizers and snacks can add 1,500 more. 
  • You can have a cheat day on Thanksgiving. One big meal will not interfere with weight loss. Just get back on track right after.
  • Calories still count. Portion control is another strategy on Thanksgiving. 
  • Use Lark during the holiday season to keep weight in check. You can be in a better place on New Year’s Day!

Thanksgiving dinner can be very high in calories. The Calorie Control Council estimates that it can have 3,000 calories. Add in appetizers and snacks, and you could be looking at 4,500 calories. That can be enough for 2 to 3 days!

Will that kind of meal stop weight loss? It does not need to. A single meal does not really affect your body weight. If you get back on track quickly, you can have a cheat day on Thanksgiving and stay on track with weight loss. Plus, there are some tricks for reducing calories on Thanksgiving. 

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Where Do So Many Calories Come From?

The 3,000-calorie estimate sounds high. But it is realistic. The following foods add up to about that many calories.

  • 8 ounces of turkey with skin
  • 1 cup of stuffing
  • ½ cup of cranberry sauce
  • 1 dinner roll with butter
  • 1 cup of green bean casserole 
  • 1 cup of candied yams
  • 1 cup of mashed potatoes with gravy
  • 1 slice of pecan pie with ice cream
  • 2 5-ounce glasses of wine

If you stretch your cheat meal into a cheat day, you will end up with more calories.

  • Appetizers such as soup, cheese and crackers, deviled eggs, and bacon-wrapped anything can add another 1,000 to 2,000 calories. 
  • While watching football on TV, snacking on nuts, cheese balls, cookies, or chips and dip can add another 1,000 calories. 
  • Leftover pie and cheesecake can pile on 1,000 calories.

What Can I Eat for a Thanksgiving Cheat Meal?

On Thanksgiving, it can help to give yourself permission to eat a cheat meal. If you are going to take a cheat meal for Thanksgiving dinner, give yourself permission to eat the foods you love. Some may be items you look forward to all year. For many people, the best strategy is to have a little bit of these favorite foods. They may include these.

  • Turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
  • Mashed potatoes, candied yams, or green bean casserole.
  • Pecan, pumpkin, or apple pie.

A cheat meal on Thanksgiving is a far better calorie bargain than an entire cheat day. And you can do even better by making small swaps to reduce calories. These are some examples.

  • Removing skin from turkey.
  • Baking stuffing on the side of the turkey instead of inside.
  • Drinking sparkling water instead of soda or alcoholic beverages.
  • Roasting or steaming vegetables instead of having them in creamy casseroles.

Portion Control at Thanksgiving

Smaller portions can cut a lot of calories. For example, a cup of eggnog plus a slice of pecan pie and pumpkin pie can add up to 1,200 calories. That can seem overwhelming! But think of it this way: cutting your eggnog and each slice of pie in half can save 600 calories. You still get to indulge in each choice, but you end up with far fewer calories.

Healthy Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

Along with taking smaller portions, these are some tips for dinner.

  • Load up your plate with green salads and roasted vegetables. Leave only a little bit of room for higher-calorie fare.
  • If you are a host, serve a green salad. If you are a guest, bring one to share. That way, you can be sure to have a low-calorie option to eat during the meal. You can serve yourself from the big bowl of greens, while others can add toppings such as croutons, bacon, cheese, dried cranberries, and nuts.
  • Talk and listen a lot. If you are eating with people, enjoy their company. Engage in the conversation and eat more slowly.
  • Taste your food. Sometimes, there is so much food on the table that you may think only about your next helping. But enjoy what is on your plate already!
  • Drink black coffee or unsweetened hot tea during dessert time. That can slow you down and take your focus away from pie, cheesecake, and ice cream.
  • Decide beforehand how to end the meal. The last thing you want is to eat an extra piece or two of pie while deciding whether you are finished and what to do next. Will you help clean up, video chat with family, go for a walk, or take photos of everyone?

Keeping Your Cheat Meal from Becoming a Cheat Weekend

Thanksgiving weekend is four days long. Having a single cheat meal on Thanksgiving Day is very different than having a four-day-long cheat weekend. These tips can help keep your weekend healthier.

  • If you host Thanksgiving dinner, give guests higher-calorie leftovers to take home. Stuffing, desserts, and creamy casseroles are good candidates.
  • Skinless turkey can go on salads, in whole-grain sandwiches and wraps, in soup with vegetables or peas, in egg muffin breakfast cups, and in many other healthy recipes. 
  • High-calorie, low-nutrient foods that your body does not want and that nobody else wants count as trash. It is okay to throw away trash.

Adding some physical activity each day of Thanksgiving weekend can help keep your body and mind in a good place. It improves mood and can relax you. That is important since some people find Thanksgiving to be stressful due to factors such as cooking, cleaning the house, and seeing relatives. Staying active can also help you stay in touch with your body and keep up motivation to eat well.

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Cheat “Day” versus Cheat “Season”

Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day are about a month apart. Having a big meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day will not make a dent in your weight loss. Overeating for the entire month between these two days will certainly show up on the scale. 

Where do you want to be on January 1?

Lark can help you stay on track during the holiday season. Lark’s nutrition and weight loss coaching includes daily check-ins, meal logging features, and instant feedback. And if motivation is what you need during this busy season, Lark is available 24/7 to provide it. 

Healthy eating during the holidays does not mean giving up everything you love. There are ways to fit in your favorites and stay true to tradition while making healthy choices. Lark can help you make small changes that can keep you on track. 

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