Most weight gain comes from eating extra calories over an extended period of time, explains Lewis. So long as you go back to your regularly scheduled programming after the big meal—and don’t let one day of overindulging snowball into days or weeks of doing so—having an occasional celebratory meal isn’t going to bother your scale.
However, if you’re trying to lose weight, these strategies can help you enjoy your big feast sans guilt so you can stay on track with your goals.
1. Don’t Starve Yourself Leading Up to the Meal
“When you starve your cells of nutrients, it slows down your metabolism. “So when the excess calories come in from a big meal, the body will store extra calories as fat. Intellectually, you know you’ll be eating again soon—but your body reacts based on nutrient and hormone levels, she explains. To avoid your bod going into storage mode, eat as you normally would leading up to a big meal. Even something small like a handful of nuts or bowl of Greek yogurt is enough to get your metabolism going.
2. Drink a Glass of Water
Our stomachs can hold about a liter of food and liquid. By drinking one or two glasses of water pre-meal, you’ll leave enough room to enjoy a big feast while reducing how much you’ll consume.
3. Brush Your Teeth
Sipping peppermint tea, taking a whiff of peppermint essential oil, or even brushing your teeth may be enough to keep your appetite in check—some studies have shown that the strong scent of peppermint makes it a natural appetite suppressant. However, steer clear of chewing minty gum, since chomping can stimulate hunger by causing the release of salivary amylase (the digestive enzyme in our mouth that starts the breakdown of carbs)
4. Plan Ahead
“Having a plan means you’re in control,” says Lewis. “Often, overeating happens because the temptation overwhelms our good intentions to eat well.” Acknowledge that big meals are a challenge and then decide what steps you can take to stay in control. For example, pick one splurge to invest your extra calories in (such as appetizers, alcoholic bevvies, or dessert) and stick with it, says New York-based registered dietitian Emily Braaten, or only indulge in foods that you don’t see at any other time of year, such as birthday cake, eggnog, or gingerbread cookies. By making a point not to deprive yourself, you can enjoy the celebratory atmosphere without guilt, keeping yourself on the wagon during the big meal and beyond, says Braaten.
5. Munch on an Apple
Eating a medium-sized apple about 15 minutes before a big meal can reduce the number of calories consumed at that meal by an average of 15 percent, thanks to its high fiber content. “That’s an average of 186 calories less, or about 60 more calories than contained in the apple itself.
6. Hit the Gym
Squeezing in a sweat sesh the day of a big meal, like those turkey trotters, can dull your appetite by suppressing hunger hormones. “The more vigorous the workout, the more hunger is suppressed—even if the workout itself is shorter in duration.
7. Sleep Tight
Scoring enough shuteye the night before a big meal could mean the difference between loading your plate with veggies—or pastries. “Lack of sleep can toy with hormones that control your appetite (namely, ghrelin and leptin) and increase cravings for unhealthy foods. Keep your inner Cookie Monster in check during the festivities by getting the recommended seven hours of sleep on the regular.