Thanksgiving is, to many, all about the eating.

But for those who are trying to stick to a careful diet, whether to manage health conditions such as diabetes, or to lose weight, the Thanksgiving meal can be very stressful.

Making healthy choices when presented with a spread of high-calorie, high-carbohydrate food and sweets can be a major challenge.

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Putting smaller portions on your plate is key, but you don't have to feel like you can't indulge at all, said Elizabeth Amisson, a dietician for Southern Ocean Medical Center's diabetes education program.

"I just feel like if people are doing things well, most of the time on a holiday, they can relax a bit," Amisson said. "Sometimes (diabetes patients) think they're not supposed to have any dessert or anything they enjoy and that's when I say have a little something."

That doesn't mean eating three slices of pie after a massive plateful of stuffing and mashed potatoes. Relaxing a little, Amisson said, means having a small slice of pie, but cutting back on the portion sizes and making sure you really are hungry. If not, get the pie to go.

For others trying to figure out how to manage the meal, first survey the spread, said Rebecca Leeks, a a dietetic intern at Cape Regional Medical Center's Nutrition Services department. "Assess the choices and don't waste calories on foods you don't love," she said.

Leeks, who is finishing up the process to become a registered dietician, also recommends not skipping meals and perhaps having a small healthy snack before a large meal so you are not chowing down on an empty stomach.

Amisson recommends when you do start eating the big meal, to enjoy your food slowly so your belly's sense of fullness triggers - something that takes about 20 minutes. "If you gobble your food down very quickly, you won't get that cue quick enough and then you tend to overeat," she said.

Leeks suggests using a smaller plate so you are more likely to keep your portion size small. She also suggests filling half of the plate with lower-calorie foods, such as vegetables and salad.

But before the meal, Amisson and Leeks both suggest getting some exercise, whether that's a walk with family, a game of ball with the kids or even one of the area 5K runs on Thanksgiving morning. That way, Amisson said, you relieve some stress and burn a few calories before the party.

For those who are trying to lose weight during the holiday season, Amisson said the week of Thanksgiving and even Christmas is a time to focus on maintaining weight.

And, while Thanksgiving seems to be all about the food, Amisson suggests people remember there are more important things than turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

"One of the things I really stress is keeping in mind the reason for the holiday and being with family and friends versus putting the emphasis on the food."

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