Like the ancient Romans (and the Vikings), we should save feasting for special occasions, not make it a weekly event. When we do feast, it is futile to stress about cheating or otherwise falling off the diet wagon. That would defeat the entire purpose of the festivities! If you decide to indulge for Thanksgiving, do it with gusto. Feasting a few times a year will not make you fatter. Most weight gain comes from consistently eating extra calories over an extended period of time. So long as you go back to your regular eating habits immediately afterward—and not allow one day of overindulgence to snowball into a weeks-long binge — having an occasional celebratory meal isn't going to break your scale. Here are some sensible steps you can take to mitigate the negative effects of a monster meal:
About 30 minutes prior to the meal do just 5-6 minutes of moderate to high-intensity cardio. Air squats, stairs, pushups, jumping jacks, jump rope, fast jog etc. The muscle contractions will temporarily improve insulin sensitivity which may decrease fat storage and shuttle more energy into lean muscle. Data show exercising prior to a meal may increase 24-hour fat-oxidation levels.
After the meal, take a long walk. Do not sit down to watch TV or fall asleep. Light exercise after meal intake suppresses triglycerides. It is best to start aerobics (light movement) about 30 min post-meal in order to lower blood glucose levels and increase fat oxidation. Anecdotally, walking (or dancing) post-meal always makes me feel less full and more energized.
Plan your meal. Know what you are getting into before you sit down. If there is a menu make your choices before you arrive. Set some limits. Having a plan means you are back in control. Keep in mind if you over-eat you will likely feel sick or just really uncomfortable. Is it worth it?
Drink a big glass of water (or seltzer) before the meal. This will fill your stomach slightly and help prevent you from overeating. Researchers have shown that drinking 500ml of water half an hour before eating a main meal causes adults to lose weight. Pre-meal water consumption leads to a significant reduction in meal energy (calorie) intake.
The day before a big meal, like a Thanksgiving feast, make sure you hit the gym. Studies show that insulin sensitivity can be enhanced significantly for a 24-hour period after a high-intensity resistance training session. Makes sure to do a hard workout the day before the festivities to help ameliorate any negative effects.
Limit your alcohol content before and during the meal. If this is not possible then make sure you drink 1 glass of water between each alcoholic beverage. This will at least slow you down and may even prevent a brain splitting hangover. Another reason to avoid drinking to excess: alcohol will lower your ability to make 'good choices'. Research shows alcohol impairs inhibitory control, which leads people to eat more. Keep in mind, beer, wine and spirits are mostly empty calories.
Make sure to get an appropriate amount of sleep the night before the festivities. Lack of sleep has been shown scientifically to awaken that inner Cookie Monster. Without adequate rest, your appetite and cravings for unhealthy food may increase. Most people tend not to make good choices when tired. Studies show that even a single night of sleep deprivation changes the levels of our hunger and appetite hormones, leading to increased hunger. Poor sleep also wreaks havoc on our ability to respond sensibly to the sight (or even the thought) of food.
Eat slowly. Savor the moment and don't rush through the meal. Put your fork down between bites. Scientists have known for some time that it takes approximately 20 minutes to receive signals from digestive hormones - secreted in the gastrointestinal tract - indicating satiety. Eating slowly also helps our digestion and portion control.
Have a small protein filled meal/snack prior to the feast so that you don't feel 'starved' before you sit down. Protein induces prolonged ghrelin (hunger hormone) suppression and is considered to be the most satiating macronutrient. Eating a normal meal or snack before a feast helps keep appetite and portions in check.
Don't deny yourself the joy of feasting. Just be smart about it; indulge in the banquet, and , avoid the vomitorium.