11/24/2011 10:49 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2012

5 Turkey Tips to Maintain -- Not Gain -- This Thanksgiving

Words are like toothpaste. Once you squeeze that tube -- or say those words -- they're almost impossible to put back. I thought this was a good analogy for my kids, who often, like their mom, speak before thinking.

And in an inverse way, the eating we do on Thanksgiving can be something hard to undo. I know I sound like a turkey pooper and my point is not to RUIN your holiday enjoyment. But a few REALLY simple rules of thumb can leave you at the same weight come next Friday that you are today. Things like drinking two glasses of water prior to your meal, chewing each bite 20 times, eating slowly, choosing only those foods you really savor and finally, waiting 20 minutes before helping your self to seconds. Or thirds. (See? I'm really not a grinch!)

If so, do you accept, in advance, the universal terms of Thanksgiving dinner and do you pre-embrace the notion that you'll be incapable of pushing away from the table at the first signs of satiety? New studies have shown that if you pre-contemplate a few of the dinner details, that you will gain less weight than if you come to the table clueless. For example, if you know where to sit at the table and what to eat the day before the big feast, you won't gain weight over the holiday.

This morning when I polled class members if they had an eating plan in place, my friend Linda proclaimed "Ah shucks, it's Thanksgiving for criminy sakes, just go for it and worry about it later!" Well. I bit down on my mouthful of imaginary fitness bullets to resist responding. But I really do not recommend going on the "No Carb Left Behind" Thanksgiving Tour.

Many dieters and exercisers view the holidays as a time for throwing in the towel. Facing 72 straight days of a never-ending barrage of fattening, fabulous foods, the mentality becomes: We know we can't win, so we resign ourselves in advance and then let ourselves go.

Most American adults gain between five and 10 pounds in the short time between Thanksgiving and New Year's, which is the same as eating about 20,000 excess calories, or 550 calories a day beyond what you need for weight maintenance. If we do this for 10 years, we could be 50 to 80 lbs over what we weigh today.

And I don't know about you, but the older I get, the harder it is to shed extra pounds. It's the butterfly effect; little changes we make today affect how we age (or what we weigh) over the decades. It's not the one sliver of pie that does it, but the cumulative affect of our little decisions that add up (and build up in our arteries).

Did you know that if you have a big crowd for dinner, everyone eats 35 calories more per seated guest? If you eat in front of the football game, you'll consume an additional 140 calories.

Here's the catch about the Thanksgiving meal -- we usually eat around 3,000 calories to kick off the season. Have you heard the myth that your stomach can stretch out if you eat super-sized meals? Or have you ever been sick or limited your food intake for several days then noticed that you got full faster, leading you to think that your stomach shrunk?

Well that's not technically what happens. Your tummy (and your brain) are much smarter than that. If we taper our meals the week prior to the turkey meal, the nerves in your stomach that detect fullness will recalibrate to detect satiety (fullness) with less food so that you feel full faster. This will make it easier to resist the huge piles of food in our presence on that day which might cause unconscious overeating.

Not to mention that the types of food we consume over Thanksgiving tend to be extremely high in calories and low in fiber. They slide right through your system and land in your behind.

Try leaving the skins on the potatoes, serving whole grain rolls and throwing the broccoli stems in with the florets as well as starting the meal off with a green salad. Fiber keeps your insulin levels normal, meaning no hunger pangs or needs for a nap, and it helps you feel full for longer as well as slowing down digestion so less calories are absorbed.

Fiber also regulates blood sugar levels. If you consume 24 grams of fiber (12 is average) this would help you absorb 90 fewer calories per day -- all the while eating the same amount!

There's a bran cracker Dr. Oz recommends called Scandinavian Bran Crispbread (and granted, it tastes like stale pressed roofing and is impossible to swallow without 16-oz of water), BUT it has all 24 grams of fiber -- an entire day's amount -- in two small crackers that only have 12 calories. Now that's bang for your fiber buck.

Not to mention the added daily benefit of a satisfying trip to the bathroom. But I'll let you find out those bathroom benefits behind closed doors.

Here are my five tips to make sure that what happens on Thanksgiving stays on Thanksgiving.

1. Get some exercise before Thanksgiving dinner. Even if it's just a walk between bastings, put yourself on your to-do list. The food will taste better, your body will feel alive and you won't feel glutonous guilt. Then take a walk post-dinner. One of my favorite sights on Thanksgiving afternoon is to see families out taking a communal walk. At our gym from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., we are hosting a 1,000 Calorie Charity Spin Class to benefit Feed the Children, so not only do we create a calorie deficit but we can help some needy American families as well.

2. Start early. Add 24 grams of daily fiber and taper the size of your meals leading up to a big meal. Drink at least two cups of water prior to all meals. Recent research has shown that older adults who do this lose more weight than those who don't pre-meal hydrate

3. Table management. Start with a small amount of servings and sit next to the thinnest person at the table. Watch what size portions they eat and try to eat slower than them. Several studies have shown that the proximity of food determines how much you load onto your plate, so stay far away. Move away from the bread basket and the wine bottle. The person sitting closest to their favorite food loses. Use the delay technique on second helpings. Wait 20 minutes before taking more.

4. Move past the mundane morsels. If you don't love it, skip it. Don't waste your calories on foods that are just "okay." This can save you hundreds of calories and help you enjoy your meal more.

5. Get back on track the very next day. If you blow it, it's not the end of the world, nor should it be the end of your diet. It's just a small setback. It's a million times better to get back on track than to continue to allow yourself to eat more. Go on a high-fiber regimen the very next morning by adding high-fiber cereals and see how quickly your urge to overeat diminishes.

Beyond these table tips, the most important advice I can offer you this holiday is this: Before you take your first bite, look around you. Notice your family and friends and all you've been blessed with. Look down at your body and give thanks for the miracle of being alive. Then get down on your knees and offer up a prayer of gratitude for all you've been given in this lifetime.


Susan B. Roberts, professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University and author of "The I Diet."