How to Avoid A Post-Thanksgiving Food Coma

By Brandy Buro, RD, LD
November 23, 2021

thanksgiving-dinner.jpgAs you’re organizing your Thanksgiving menu, making your grocery lists and checking them twice we wanted to offer some advice on how to “survive” the holiday that revolves entirely around food. And really when you think about it, this one day somehow turns into the start of a five-week free-for-all until it’s time for the New Year resolutions.

All that said, Thanksgiving doesn’t mean your good nutrition habits have to suffer or go completely off track. The traditional elements of a Thanksgiving dinner, when paired together, can be balanced—turkey, buttery green beans and sweet potatoes—but add the crusty bread, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, marshmallow salad and candied cranberries and things have quickly gotten out of control. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you head out to, or host your own, feast.

1. No such thing as “saving room”

Please don’t skip eating all day before the big meal; that plan to “save room” always backfires. Imagine how hungry you’ll be once the appetizers come out. You’ll be tempted to eat everything in sight! Not just that, but not eating all day will cause your blood sugar to dip and make you cranky, which doesn’t make for a fun Thanksgiving. The best advice is to start your Thanksgiving Day with a balanced breakfast. Later, right before guests arrive or before you head out to the Thanksgiving meal, eat a balanced snack—such as tuna with mayo or avocado for protein and fat with sliced cucumbers for the carbohydrate—to ensure your blood sugar is stable. You’ll be less likely to have cravings and overeat. A couple other quick and easy snack options could be Greek yogurt with blueberries and slivered almonds or a hardboiled egg with half of an apple and some nut butter.

Need more snack ideas?

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2. Off limits

We suggest avoiding anything laden with sugar, refined flours and refined  fats. All these artificial foods are very addicting and can be hard to resist once you’ve started. It’s not a lack of willpower that makes you reach for roll after roll; it’s your brain chemistry thrown off from all those artificial ingredients. Give your brain a break and know that certain things just have to be off limits. With so many other real food options, you won’t be sacrificing the deliciousness of the meal if you skip the fall-colored M&M candy dish.

3. Look for homemade

There are just so many hidden ingredients in store-bought foods. Try to avoid those processed goods (loaded with the damaged fats, sugars and refined flours we mentioned above) and stick with the homemade items. At least you know homemade was crafted with real ingredients. And probably made with the secret ingredient of love!

olives.jpg4. Bring your own

If you’re invited to a gathering, offer to bring a dish. It’s the perfect opportunity to add some real food to the day’s events. Here are some of our favorite holiday recipes. You’ll know that if all else fails you’ll have your dish to snack on. For instance, swap out a Chex™ Mix appetizer for a variety of olives and nuts. Green, black, Kalamata and garlic-stuffed olives not only look festive, but they taste delicious. Bonus, the fats in the olives and nuts are healthy and are sure to keep your blood sugar stable. Balanced blood sugar means clear thinking, vibrant moods and good energy. Wouldn’t you rather have that versus the Chex Mix aftermath of a blood sugar spike and crash, leaving you feeling anxious, headachy and cranky? We would!

Bringing your own beverage to share also helps you avoid high-sugar drinks. Many of us at Nutritional Weight & Wellness enjoy La Croix sparkling waters. Put it in a wine glass with a slice of lemon and you’ll feel fancy, plus stay hydrated to help curb cravings.

5. Balance your plate

At Nutritional Weight & Wellness this is our number one piece of advice, on Thanksgiving and every day of the year. We alluded to it earlier, but by balanced we mean consuming a quality animal protein, good fat (butter, avocado, nuts and olives for example) and healthy carbohydrates (mostly non-starchy vegetables) at every meal and snack. This trifecta is the optimal mix to help balance your blood sugar, keep your metabolism moving, your mood stable and give your body the nutrients it needs to function. We’ve all experienced the “hangry” (hungry and angry) feeling after going without food, just as we’ve all experienced wanting to take a nap after a huge plate of Thanksgiving fare. Both scenarios are your low blood sugar talking!

recipe_brined-roasted-turkey_feature.jpgFortunately, when it comes to a Thanksgiving buffet, there are a lot of real food options to make balancing your plate easy. For instance, turkey is a great protein. (A rule of thumb for a serving size of protein is to look for cuts of meat roughly the size of your palm.) With the protein covered, look for quality fats and carbs for the rest of your plate. Thanksgiving staples like green beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and Brussels sprouts are perfect options. Better yet, they’ve likely been cooked in butter, giving you a quality fat as well. If they haven’t, grab a pat of butter and put it on top of any veggies you add to your plate.

Want to learn more about eating in balance?

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6. It’s okay to say “no thank you”

The bakers in our lives come out of the woodwork during the holidays, and you’re bound to encounter gifts of cookies, cakes, and candies at every turn. Food is often a way some people show love, so it can be difficult to refuse the offer (especially for those of us who live in the “Minnesota Nice” culture!). Prepare yourself for this and know that saying “no thank you” is always an acceptable answer. Compliment your friend or loved one on their hard work while also honoring yourself with something like, “This looks incredible, but sweet treats don’t agree with me these days. I’m sure someone else would love to try your famous shortbread!” You can acknowledge their gesture of love and care while also being true to what’s best for your body and needs this year.

One last piece of advice: don’t get mad at yourself! If you end up eating a slice of Grandma’s classic pie recipe, don’t give up on all healthy eating until the new year. Enjoy it in the moment by savoring each bite without guilt and, the morning after Thanksgiving, get right back to your healthy habits with a balanced breakfast.

A healthy Thanksgiving is possible! By following these tips, or any you’ve perfected over the years, you can start the holiday season off on the right foot. Eat throughout the day like normal, skip the sugar/refined flour/damaged fat foods, opt for the homemade dishes, bring a real food option to share, and balance your plate! Adding in a healthy dose of gratitude and you’ll be set for a happy, healthy, nourishing season.

For more ideas on how to handle the holidays, check out these resources:

About the author

Brandy is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Her mission is to help people discover for themselves the positive impact real food can make in their lives. “It gives me so much joy to help people make meaningful changes and witness the powerful transformations that follow. I remember how empowering it felt to take control of my health, and I want to help my clients do the same. I love sharing what I know and learning from my clients’ experiences in the process.” 

View all posts by Brandy Buro, RD, LD


Aiki caldwell
great and wonderful article
November 16, 2016 at 11:31 am

Diane Fee
Pumpkin pie made from the NWW cookbook recipe was a Thanksgiving hit. Certainly the generous dollop of real whipped cream added palate pleasure (good fat) to the feast’s finale.
November 29, 2019 at 7:46 am


So wonderful to hear the recipe was a hit! 

Carola Jain
Staying healthy is a goal of many people during the holiday, and when it comes to eating well, portion control goes a long way. Enjoy the foods you'd like, but be mindful of how much you consume of each.
November 23, 2021 at 2:15 pm


We agree!

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