Stuffing isn’t just a side dish on your Thanksgiving dinner table – it’s what people tend to do to themselves this holiday.

“Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, is known for the massive amount of food served and eaten. On average, people consume approximately 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving,” Dr. Charles T. Grad said. That’s more than double the amount recommended to consume in a whole day, all in one sitting.

It’s not just the calorie count that’s alarming – it’s the actual amount of food people eat on Thanksgiving that can be problematic. Think about it – you likely fill your plate with turkey, dinner rolls, muffins, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and more. Then, maybe an hour or so later, you indulge in pumpkin pie and other desserts.

And that’s all before you factor in going back for second helpings of both courses. That’s a lot of food.

“Consuming all of that food can make you feel uncomfortable and make your pants feel a little bit tighter, but overeating and eating too quickly on Thanksgiving can also irritate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), causing heartburn,” Dr. Grad said.

Overeating can trigger heartburn since it causes your stomach to remain distended with large quantities of food in it.

“There’s a muscle between your esophagus and your stomach that lets food pass from your mouth into your stomach – it’s called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES),” Dr. Grad said. “The longer your stomach stays distended, the more likely the LES won’t close properly, potentially allowing food and stomach juices to rise back up into the esophagus.”

Eating too quickly, eating while lying down or too close to bed time can also trigger heartburn.

You can, however, still enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner without stuffing yourself or having to pop antacids for heartburn after dinner. Here’s how.

Drink water

Drink a large glass of water 30 minutes before dinner. Studies have should that doing so can provide you with a sense of fullness, leading you to eat a little bit less when you sit down to your feast. Plus, choosing water as your drink during dinner instead of juice, soda or alcohol means you’ll be consuming fewer calories.

Use a smaller plate

The larger the plate, the more room you have to fill it with food. Using a smaller plate for your Thanksgiving dinner is a kind visual mind trick.

“Studies have found people serve themselves in proportion to the size plate they use,” Dr. Grad said. For instance, a serving size of pasta, which is 3 ounces, on a 10-inch plate looks like a larger portion than the same amount of pasta on a 12-inch plate.

“People tend to overserve themselves with larger plates. And, because people typically eat 92 percent of what they serve themselves, larger plates usually lead to eating more,” Dr. Grad said. Eating your Thanksgiving meal from a smaller plate may make a normal serving seem more filling.

Slow down and take a break

It takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your stomach to send the message to stop eating to your brain. If you tend to be a fast eater, slowing your pace down on Thanksgiving may help you stop eating before you are so full you need to loosen up your belt buckle.

“Eating more slowly will help you savor the taste of your feast, which can promote mental and emotional satiety from eating,” Dr. Grad said. “Plus, eating at a slower pace improves digestion.”

Not sure if you’re full? Try standing up.

“Standing up at some point during your Thanksgiving dinner will give you the sense of how your stomach feels. If you feel comfortable, but not overly full when you stand up, that’s a sign you’ve eaten enough,” Dr. Grad said. Doing this mid-meal will help you avoid that feeling when you stand up at the end of your meal and realize the bloated feeling in your stomach if you’ve overindulged.

If you feel funny to simply stand up for no apparent reason to your fellow guests, offer to fill up their glasses or replenish a serving dish in the kitchen.

Charles T. Grad, M.D., is the director of gastroenterology at Geisinger-Community Medical Center, Scranton. To make an appointment with Dr. Grad, please call 570-961-0171.

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