By Cynthia Sass
Updated: December 10, 2015

It may be the No. 1 eating holiday, but it is possible to navigate Thanksgiving without depriving yourself or packing on pounds. Here's my 4-step strategy for lightening things up, without sacrificing your favorites:

Step One: Choose your splurge items first. Which dishes or desserts are must-haves and which are ones you can nix? On Thanksgiving, we tend to have a little of everything because well, that's what people do, or because it's there, but it's perfectly OK to skip the dishes that don't really do it for you. If you think, "meh," when you see sweet potato casserole or a buttered roll, just pass.

Step Two: Balance your plate. Holiday favorites such as stuffing and pie are typically high in calories and fat. To create a balance, whip up some simple veggie side dishes. If you're going to someone else's house, bring a dish or two. Veggies are full of water and fiber as well as nutrients, so when they're not fried or doused in butter or cream sauce, eating them with smaller portions of heavier items can help prevent you from feeling stuffed, sluggish and sleepy. Some easy, breezy options include:1. Grilled or roasted vegetables, like asparagus spears, cauliflower florets, eggplant and carrots. I just slice, lay on a cookie sheet, lightly mist with extra-virgin olive oil or an herb-infused oil such as garlic or rosemary, and cook at about 350 fahrenheit until tender or golden.

2. Scoop out the center of cherry tomatoes and stuff them with field greens lightly tossed in a light citrus vinaigrette.

3. Marinate button mushrooms in a light balsamic vinaigrette or a simple ginger sauce made from brown rice vinegar, fresh citrus juice, roasted garlic, fresh grated ginger and scallions.

Step Three: Slow down. As I wrote about in another recent post, taking it slow can automatically help you eat less and feel more satisfied. Try to set your fork down between bites, savor your food, chew more carefully, and stop eating periodically to share a story or catch up with friends and family. Some research shows that we tend to match the pace of our eating to the people we're eating with. This year try an experiment and become the pacesetter.

Step Four: Pay attention to your tipping point. If you eat with awareness, it's much easier to sense that moment when you feel perfectly full and satisfied and it'll be easier to pay attention when that little voice tells you, 'If you keep eating, you're going to end up too full or stuffed." Even if the food is delicious and your plate isn't clean, honor that feeling and stop. Doing so isn't about deprivation or willpower, it's all about balance. Overeating is like putting on a wool sweater when you're already at the perfect temperature- it doesn't really make sense or feel good to your body. If you typically overdo it, strive for balance this Thursday.

Do you struggle with overeating it on Thanksgiving? How do you feel about trying to create a healthier balance? Share your thoughts here or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!P.S. Come back tomorrow for tips about dealing with holiday food pushers!

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.



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