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Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tip: Slow Down

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Worrying about carbs, calories and diets is one of the most unproductive things you can do on a holiday that celebrates thankfulness. Instead of giving you a list of healthy side dishes or tips on how to cut out calories, this Thanksgiving I offer just a single piece of advice: slow down.

The actual content of your Thanksgiving dinner matters very little in the grand scheme of things. A few hundred calories here or there can make a difference when projected over weeks and years, but for one meal the impact is negligible. Your body will adjust naturally and you'll burn off those extra calories the next day, so don't worry about it.

But for people trying to get healthy or lose weight, not worrying about food can feel very strange. There is always the fear that if you aren't vigilant and conscious of what and how much you eat you may gorge yourself stupid and all your hopes of fitting into your favorite jeans by the end of the year will be ruined.

Overeating is certainly a possibility when food anxiety is a constant force in your life, but Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to start getting over it. Really. It may seem counterintuitive that such a food-forward holiday can be stress free, but let's not forget that the real point of Thanksgiving isn't turkey or pie, but being thankful.

Since most of us won't be harvesting our own meals this year (hats off to anyone who is), it is silly to pretend this particular dinner requires more thankfulness than any other meal we eat. Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce are tradition, but do not necessarily reflect our 21st century needs and values.

With the emergence of modern media, there are other essential pieces of our lives that we can no longer afford to take for granted. Free time is one. Exercise is another. But most important of all these is our real, human, non-Twitter relationships, particularly those with family and friends. It is far too easy to neglect these basic elements of our existence when we have so many other obligations and distractions, but failure to nurture them can severely affect our overall quality of life.

If you care about your health and want to keep your eating under control on Thursday, why not focus your attention on strengthening relationships and spending time with the people you care about? Instead of worrying about yourself and what you want to accomplish, ask people about themselves and discuss mutual interests.

Let food be part of the celebration, but not the purpose of your day.

Once food is no longer the center of attention the only thing you need to keep in mind is to eat slowly-it is pretty tough to overeat if you are biting and chewing at a snail's pace.

Slow eating helps you eat less food and appreciate it more. It also helps you make wiser food choices, since decisions about what to put on your plate are made less impulsively.

But slow eating does require some conscious effort. If you are in the habit of shoveling food in your mouth without taking time to put down your fork and chew (or breathe), it is easy to slip back into this pattern. Also, if people around you are all guzzling their food in a fury, you might feel a natural compulsion to keep pace and match their eating speed.

I've written before about how to become a slow eater, but at large family dinners some of these tactics can be particularly useful. Start by actively trying to keep conversations engaged while you eat. Chewing and talking are (hopefully) mutually exclusive, so the more you converse the longer it will take you to get through your meal.

Making an effort to put your fork down between bites is another effective way to slow your pace at the dining table. To give your hands something to do between bites, reach for your glass and take regular sips of your water (it is best not to rely exclusively on wine for this tactic) or wipe your lips with your napkin.

And don't forget to chew.

Trying to eat slowly is much easier than trying to summon the will power to skip the mashed potatoes and biscuits. And slowly savoring the foods you love is far more enjoyable than inventing a clever recipe to replace the sugar or fat in your pumpkin pie.

Spend time with people, enjoy your meal and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

How do you approach health and food on Turkey Day?

Darya is a scientist, foodie and advocate of local, seasonal foods. For more healthy eating tips visit her blog Summer Tomato. You can also connect with Darya on Twitter @summertomato and Facebook.

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