BF Survival Guide: Thanksgiving Dinner (after weight loss surgery)

~by Nikki

Well Turkey Day is just a week away and we know that some of you are freaking out a little bit, especially if you are a new post-op.

Thanksgiving is a holiday for counting our blessings, enjoying our family…and sharing an outrageously large and over-caloric meal. It’s the American way and no amount of self-help talk can get us around that.
But you know what we say here at BF…always, always, always have a strategy.
To that effect, we’ve compiled this collection of tips to get you up to, and through, the day without going crazy, falling completely off the wagon or depriving yourself of the wonderful foods Thanksgiving has to offer.

Turkey Day Tip #1:  “He (or She) who makes the meal, determines the meal content”

…but that does NOT mean you have to go around advertising your first annual healthy Thanksgiving dinner. We know you are excited about all the wonderful and healthy recipes and cooking methods you’ve learned (and we hope you learned a good deal of them here), but the fastest way to turn a non-op off is to advertise that something is healthy. For whatever reason it translates in their minds as bland and flavorless.

What to do instead? Make your wonderful, healthy dishes with yummy ingredients. Don’t stray too far away from the Thanksgiving paradigm though. Just make the dishes you always made but make a few smart substitutions: use low-sodium fat-free chicken broth for your stuffing and in your gravy, use 100% whole wheat bread for your stuffing, make your own no-sugar added cranberry sauce (Jen is going to post her fabulous recipe later this week), do a no-sugar added pumpkin or apple pie.

But here is the key: put it on the table (or buffet…or counter…or whatever you use to serve) and then walk away! Say nothing. Let people enjoy the food. We always feel we need to “warn” people that something is healthy, but why? Unless there is a real reason to let someone know (say, they are allergic to sugar substitutes), what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

Turkey Day Tip #2: At the family dinner, learn the “Rules of Three’s”

 What are the rules of three’s? There are two from our perspective (thought we were gonna say there were three rules, didn’t ya???): The “three bite rule” and the “three minute” rule.

The “three bite rule” – This is geared toward moderation. When facing a room full of food you think you can’t have, one of three things is bound to happen. Either you will a) get really moody because you feel resentful b) your obvious longing for the food will make everyone else uncomfortable eating it or c) you’ll set yourself up to think you are “cheating” which usually results in over-indulgence. Instead, re-write that story! You can have whatever you want from the dinner table. Eat a bit of protein first and then with the more carby stuff, allow yourself approximately three bites of it. Want some pumpkin pie? Three bites. Want that homemade mac ‘n cheese? Three bites!

Newbies: if you don’t know what you dump on yet (or even if you dump) go straight to the next rule.

Or better yet, make sure there are desserts you can eat! Like my drool-worthy cheesecake, Jen’s fabulous chocolate trifle, or if you really want to get daring you can attempt my protein pumpkin roll cake! Or click here for lots more dessert ideas!

The “three minute rule” – This rule can be a pain in the butt. But it’s saved me from getting sick so many times I can’t even tell you. If there is something served where you don’t know if you will dump, take a bite. Chew it, swallow it. Then wait three minutes. That’s long enough to let your pouch (or sleeve, or stomach or whatever you call your anatomy) have its reaction. If nothing happens, proceed with caution. Eat slowly and chew well. If you feel even the slightest bit icky, pass on the rest of the dish. It’s not worth taking the risk!

Turkey Day Tip #3: It’s not called Thanks-GIVING for nothing

I don’t know about you but leftovers bug the hell outta me. I don’t like them because I never eat them all. And unlike many of you, my day job involves being in the realities of hungry children (and adults) in Africa. So mentally? I can’t deal with throwing away a lot of food. To this effect I have a tip and I have some good news.

First the tip. If you are hosting the dinner, give away as much food as you can! Make it easy for people to take food home. I always buy those styrofoam “take out” containers from my local restaurant supply store. They look like this:

Foam Container 1 Compartment Hinged Med White, 200/cs (BWK0107) Category: Foam Food Containers
Pssst…clicking the link will take you to where you can order some for yourself!

They are a godsend. People see those and they think, “yeah…I can take something home…” And then you don’t have to worry about it. If you are attending a family potluck, bring your dishes in aluminum pans from the grocery store…and quietly leave them there! Yes, that kinda sucks on your hosts but hey…you’ve given them a yummy treat to enjoy and really? Thanksgiving is a battlefield for us and it’s every stomach for themselves!

Now for the good news! Next week Bariatric Foodie will have its first ever dessert week. (That’s not the good news relevant to this post but it is good news!) But the week after Thanksgiving will be leftovers week! So if you do get stuck with leftovers, we’re going to show you how to remix them into totally yummy dishes that can be eaten now OR frozen for later use.

Turkey Day Tip #4: Put down the fork and talk to somebody!

This is the standard issue advice, we know, but it really does ring true. It’s not all about food. You will be with family and friends, many of whom will want to compliment you on how great you look! In preparation for the day do the following (and I am serious here folks). Look in the mirror and practice saying “thank you” in a sincere way. Do it over and over and over. Why? Because most of us only half believe the compliments we get are true. In our minds we haven’t lost enough, are losing too slow or just generally aren’t doing that great. But it’s sort of rude to disclaimer someone’s compliment. So practice saying thank you so that it feels natural when you say it many, many times on Thanksgiving.

And if you’ve kept your surgery private, also practice your “alibi.” What should that be? We can’t say. We do find, however, that a version of the truth that leaves out that crucial detail works. For example: Aunt Martha says, “you look GREAT! How’d you lose all that weight?” You say, “I’ve made a lot of changes to how I eat and I’m more active. I’m so flattered you noticed!” See? Simple.

Turkey Day Tip #5: DON’T starve yourself to get to the big event

That never ends well. Your pouch will be pissy and you’ll likely not get to really enjoy your food. Instead, relax! Eat a little, talk a little, laugh a LOT! That’s an order!

These are just a few of the great tips we have to share about Thanksgiving but we feel like they are the most crucial. If you want to get more tips leading up to the big day, make sure you become our fan on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. We’ll be posting many more tips along with great recipes!

And look for an uber-yummy dessert protein shake recipe later on today!


  1. Awesome tips! This will be my first Thanksgiving I'm cooking since surgery. I'm 8 weeks post op but feel good about being able to eat a little that day!

  2. These are good tips! I never was one for Thanksgiving Feasts but always nice to have some options.

  3. Good tips. To be honest I have been kind of dreading Thanksgiving this year. My mother-in-law is driving me insane with her fussing over me to begin with ("Have some more of this! Have some more of that– these are sweet potatoes, they are healthy!" (No, they are NOT healthy if you have slathered brown sugar and butter all over them!!)), and this year she is having some friends over as well, so it is even more fraught than the usual meals. My big plan was to take a bite or two of the sides I like, then fill up with the turkey– which sounds pretty much exactly what you are advocating, so good to know I am in good company! 😀