Is It Possible to Get Through the Holidays Without Gaining Weight?

The holidays are just upon us! Food will be everywhere, but the holidays don’t have to be synonymous with gaining weight. 

As a child, we celebrated the yearend holidays with my grandparents. My grandmother had stashes of candy in nearly every room of her house, so upon arrival, we kids began the treasure hunt to find and sample all the candy dishes. 

After our fill of candy, if our tastebuds still craved more sweetness, cookies were in the cookie jar, and the freezer was stuffed full of all sorts of delicacies. I especially liked the ice cream sandwiches, or Bon-Bon’s! But there were “healthier” choices, too, like Weight Watcher’s fudge bar!  

Soon it was time for dinner. The tables were beautifully arranged, laden with turkey and dressing with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, lima beans, green bean casserole, corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, mixed fruit gelatin salad topped with cool whip, a large tray of colorful raw veggies and dip, rolls and bread with spreads, candied nuts, and other dishes I never touched like sauerkraut and stewed tomatoes. Drinks of various sorts were served. 

The pumpkin, apple, pecan pies, brownies, and other baked goods were served as soon as we finished dinner. I always had warm pumpkin pie a’ la mode, which filled any possible remaining space in the stomach. 

The adults would get up from the table and wobble over to the living room, sit down, and complain about how much they had eaten or how they had blown their diet. At the same time, we kids paraded around and had all the adults judge whose belly was the fullest as we arched back to make it protrude the most! Then we were off to play, leaving the adults to their misery.

Does this sound familiar? 

The scale is broken, for how can it possibly be right reading ten pounds heavier? 

A picture is worth a thousand words! 

Approval confirmation number is 4290 Dr. Howard M. Shapiro, Dr. Shapiro’s Picture Perfect Weight Loss. Rodale. 2000.
Photographs by Kurt Wilson/Rodale Images and Lou Manna

Dr. Howard Shapiro’s book, Picture Perfect Weight Loss, gives a clear picture of a typical modest Thanksgiving dinner: A cocktail with peanuts, a couple of pastry hors d’oeuvres, and a tiny bit of cheese and pate to start. A few slices of turkey with trimmings, a glass of wine, and a wedge of pie. 

Would you agree that it is a much better meal than our family Thanksgiving tradition? Dr. Shapiro’s dinner looks quite tasty, and the portions are small but filling.  

Do you think you would eat this amount for Thanksgiving? 

Now let’s consider the calories in Dr. Shapiro’s Thanksgiving Dinner:

  • 3 drinks = 530 calories
  • ½ cup mixed nuts = 440 calories
  • 3 oz pastry = 380 calories
  • 2 oz pate = 240 calories
  • 5 crackers = 80 calories
  • 6 oz turkey, light and dark meat with skin = 360 calories
  • 4 Tbsp. gravy = 120 calories
  • 1 cup stuffing = 400 calories
  • 2 small candied yams = 200 calories
  • ½ cup buttered green beans = 60 calories
  • Pecan pie wedge = 680 calories 

And it all adds up to a whopping 3710 calories! Can we maintain weight by eating 3710 calories for one meal? Certainly not without running a marathon. Are you still satisfied with Dr. Shapiro’s Thanksgiving meal? 

Would you like to see something better than 3710 calories?

Can we shave off thousands of calories and still have a meal as tasty and filling as this one?

Approval confirmation number is 4290 Dr. Howard M. Shapiro, Dr. Shapiro’s Picture Perfect Weight Loss. Rodale. 2000.

Fortunately, Dr. Shapiro gives us another picture:

  • 2 cups low-calorie punch – 40 calories
  • 5 cherry tomatoes – 10 calories
  • 2 cups assorted vegetables – 30-50 calories
  • 3 Tbsp. onion/chive dip (low-fat) – 30 calories
  • 7 grilled shiitake mushrooms – 30 calories
  • 2 Tbsp. soy dipping sauce – 10 calories
  • 6-oz. baked yam – 150 calories
  • 1 cup green beans with herbs – 40 calories
  • ¾ cup ginger-fruit whole-grain stuffing (low-fat) – 80 calories
  • 2½ scallops – 80 calories
  • 4-oz. white-meat turkey or vegetarian substitute – 200 calories
  • 2 Tbsp. cranberry relish – 20 calories
  • 3 fl. oz. wine – 60 calories
  • 1 cup pumpkin custard – 150 calories 

Now Dr. Shapiro’s Thanksgiving Meal 2 is a beautiful Thanksgiving meal that shaves off 2,790 calories from the first Thanksgiving meal for 930 calories. 

For some who are trying not to gain weight during the holidays, this is still a lot of calories for one meal. If you want to shave off more calories, choose to eat your calories instead of drinking them. Drink water with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Omit the scallops, reduce the turkey to 3 ounces, and eat only half of the yam (3 oz). Reduce the stuffing and custard to ½ cup each. Now you have shaved off an additional 320 calories, and the total calories for the meal would be 610. Now that is something better, something tasty and traditional without gaining weight. 

Eat lower-calorie foods

Your idea of an appropriate selection of dishes might differ from mine or Dr. Shapiro’s. The concepts for enjoying the holiday without gaining weight are fewer dishes and more vegetables, healthier recipes, and portion control. Eating lower-calorie foods, such as vegetables, usually translates to fewer calories consumed. Eating only at mealtimes and avoiding grazing will help you get through the holidays without gaining weight. 

One of the best things you can do after you eat to avoid gaining weight is to go for a stroll; what we call a digestive walk at Abundant Health Wellness Center. This will aid digestion, decrease the after-meal grogs, and help you enjoy the holidays without gaining weight. Give your stomach a holiday gift: avoid overeating and take a digestive walk after meals! 

To make a specific holiday plan, visit to schedule a virtual or in-person appointment. Together we can create a plan to include the foods you want to enjoy while still accomplishing your health goals.


Author: Dana West, RD, LD, DIPACLM is the Dietitian at Abundant Health Wellness Center in Eureka Spring, Arkansas. 

Featured Image by Julie Rothe from Pixabay