5 Nutritionists Tell You How to Limit the Damage During Your Thanksgiving Meal

Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without messing up your athletic performance with tips from five expert nutritionists and dietitians.

You're going to indulge on Thanksgiving. That's an undeniable fact.

Heck, it's a national holiday in which the main event is eating. And the food is delicious from start to finish.

Some people can eat pounds and pounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and desserts without much consequence. For others, overindulging can reverse months of hard work in a single meal.

That's not to say you should avoid your annual feast. But you can make a few small tweaks to your Thanksgiving meal to limit the damage while still enjoying the deliciousness.

Here are recommendations from five top nutrition experts.

Thanksgiving Turkey

Leslie Bonci, sports dietitian and nutritionist for several pro sports teams

  • I think people should approach Thanksgiving like a sports event. Strategize, optimize and maximize without supersize!

  • Don't be overly hungry. You may want to save up all your calories for the big meal, but typically you end up so hungry that you stuff food in without really enjoying it.

  • No need for appetizers for this meal. Focus on the special foods that Thanksgiving is all about. Cheese, crackers and nuts are OK any day, but keep those calories out so you be selective about the calories you put in.

  • Fill two-thirds of your plate with turkey and veggies, then complete the plate with the stuffing and potatoes.

  • Eat slowly and take the time to chew and savor the wonderful food.

  • Don't waste calories on foods you could eat any day, so keep your hands off the chips/pretzels when watching football before your meal. Go for sparkling water instead of soda to save calories for dessert.

  • A small slice of pie is just as good as a slab. Use a small plate, small fork, relax, enjoy and give thanks for a great meal, family and friends.

Justin Robinson, sports dietitian and strength coach

  • When it comes to desserts or other indulging foods, I like to say "eat what you like, just eat less of it." A slice of regular pumpkin pie with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream is better than a quarter of a low-fat pie with sugar-free cool whip. The principle of "eat real food" should should not change during the holiday season.
  • Also, exercise before you eat, even if it's a 20-minute routine. Not so much because you will burn the extra calories, but because of the mental benefits. A short, intense and fun workout will allow you to enjoy dinner and dessert with less guilt, because the holidays are about enjoying yourself without losing sight of your goals. Don't put yourself through "mental hell" trying to eat only broccoli and turkey without gravy.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, sports dietitian at University Hospitals

  • Go whole.  Opt for 100 percent whole grain rolls, brown rice stuffing or 100 percent whole grain crackers on the veggie tray.
  • Go pro. Protein that is. Go for the lean white meat breast for the best source of lean protein that will keep you feeling full. Leave that dark meat drumstick for another relative.
  • Be picky. Choose either mashed potatoes and gravy or stuffing—you don't need both.
  • Be active. Run a Turkey Trot, throw the football around, jump in the leaves, take a walk—anything to burn off those holiday calories.
  • Palm it. A proper portion size is the palm of a lady's hand. REALLY! Keep the portions in check, and your waistline will follow.

Kayla Hansmann, registered dietitian and fitness coach

  • Don't add extra sugar to cranberries. Instead, pair it with a savory food item like turkey or stuffing to combat the tartness.

  • Try to eliminate the gravy, or use less of it. You can substitute with an array of seasonings such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage or garlic—or combine these spices to make a seasoned yogurt dip or spread.

  • Don't skip your earlier meals of the day or go into the Thanksgiving feast completely famished. The hungrier you are, the harder it may be to avoid seconds or overeating on the first plate.

  • Go for a walk or plan some sort of physical activity after your meal. A football game or  a family run will not only help burn off some of the extra calories but will get you out of the kitchen.

  • Aim for at least 3-4 colors on your plate and begin by plating salad first.

  • Skip the appetizers and don't be afraid to veer from the traditional Thanksgiving sides to give your meal a healthier twist. Making the side dishes more vegetarian-based will eliminate unnecessary extra calories from sausage in stuffing or meats in casseroles.

  • Don't dig in to dessert right away. Don't deprive yourself, but give your body time to process the entree, then revisit the sweets later on.

  • Remember, the freezer is your friend! If you're afraid of leftovers, don't let this trap you into eating more than you would normally.

Sara Haas, registered dietitian and chef

  • Eat a little bit before you go. This means something nourishing like veggies and hummus or a piece of fruit. The idea is to have something in your belly so that you're not "starving" by the time you get to the Thanksgiving buffet.
  • I also recommend watching your alcohol intake. It's easy to keep getting your glass refilled, but make a point to enjoy alcohol in moderation—assuming you are of age. Space it out with plenty of water so that you also stay hydrated.
  • You could avoid certain foods, but I recommend just taking small portions. Sometimes just a taste of something is enough to satisfy your need for that indulgence. If you can't have just a taste, then try to avoid it.
  • Lastly, if there is a buffet, use the small salad plate as your dinner plate. This helps keep portions small.