Pittsburgh eating experts weigh in on how to pace yourself this Thanksgiving

For advice, we turned to local nutrition pros and the cast of ‘The Humans,’ who eat a turkey dinner during each show.

The cast of "The Humans" eats — yes, actually eats — Thanksgiving dinner.

The cast of "The Humans" eats — yes, actually eats — Thanksgiving dinner.

Michael Henninger / Pittsburgh Public Theater
MJ Slaby

Thanksgiving is so close you can practically smell the overflowing dishes of mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and days-worth of leftover turkey.

But what if you had to eat that same meal, almost daily, for five weeks? That’s the case for the cast of Pittsburgh Public Theater’s “The Humans,” which runs through Dec. 10.

The one-act comedy tells the story of Thanksgiving dinner at co-habitating Brigid Blake and Richard Saad’s apartment in New York City’s Chinatown. And the actors *actually* eat during every. single. show. Who better to offer tips on pacing yourself during Thanksgiving dinner than a cast that eats the meal over and over?

We also chatted with a trio of nutrition experts to make you a schedule from today through Friday for maximum holiday enjoyment, without overeating.

Start planning today

We’re not all eating Thanksgiving dinner for weeks like the cast of “The Humans,” but there are a few things to keep in mind, starting today. The Incline talked to three nutrition experts to maximize the rest of your gluttonous week.

Thanksgiving Eve — aka Blackout Wednesday

Eat breakfast. Don’t starve yourself thinking that it’s a good way to “save room.” You won’t be able to function well, and the last thing you need is to be hangry at the family dinner, said Mim Seidel, assistant professor of nutrition at Chatham University.  Breakfast kickstarts your metabolism, added Elizabeth Dubovi, clinical nutrition coordinator for Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Eat normally. That means three regular meals or six smaller meals, Dubovi said.

Limit extra calories. If you want to cut back in anticipation of the holiday, try swapping snacks of cookies and cakes for fruit, Seidel said. Plus, cut calories by not drinking (or limiting) soda, juices, sweet tea or fancy coffee drinks.

Sneak in a workout.

Be mindful of alcohol. Sure, it’s “Blackout Wednesday,” but that doesn’t mean you have to actually blackout. Here are a few tips from Seidel as you head out tonight:

  • Have a glass of water, seltzer water or club soda between drinks to lower your total drinks. Order a club soda and lime and people will assume it’s a gin and tonic, she said.
  • If mixed drinks are your poison, remember that every shot of liquor is 100 calories, and mixer adds more calories on top of that.
  • For the lowest calories, drink white wine.
  • Set a drink limit, and stick to it.

Get a healthy mindset. Try to get excited about the nonfood parts of the holiday, like seeing family and friends, advised Nonnie Toth, a nutritionist and dietitian with AHN’s Cardiovascular Institute. Also remember that “Thanksgiving should be enjoyable,” and no eating tips should take away from that, Seidel said.

Thanksgiving Day

Eat breakfast and lunch (if applicable). See above. It doesn’t have to be a big breakfast, Toth said. A few ideas from the pros:

  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Egg and toast
  • Egg and fruit
  • Oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • Non-sugar cereal with skim milk

Don’t nibble early. Sure, you have to taste for seasoning, but don’t start eating here and there as you cook, Seidel said. “There’s no reason to come into the meal with 500 calories,” she said. Try chewing gum or sipping on water all day instead.

Eat smart at dinner. Keep these things in mind when you’re sitting down for the main event:

  • Use a smaller plate, Dubovi said. You’ll put less on there, and it tricks your mind into thinking you’re eating more than you are.
  • Fill your plate with healthy foods first and then take smaller amounts of potatoes with gravy and sweet potatoes, Toth said.
  • Choose white meat from the turkey, without skin, to save on calories and fat, Toth said.
  • Pick the foods you like best and/or the foods you only get at the holidays, Seidel said. If there are two kinds of stuffing, pick the one you like better or take half portions of each.
  • Try to take small amounts of added fats like gravy, butter, salad dressing, mayo and sour cream, Seidel said.

Get moving. Don’t sit on the couch or nap after dinner. Go for a walk with family or play an interactive game, Toth and Dubovi said. And don’t use physical activity as an excuse to overeat. Just because you ran the Turkey Trot in the morning doesn’t mean you can load up on nothing but potatoes.

Sample desserts. Stick with your favorite sweets or the ones that you only get on Thanksgiving, the nutrition pros said. If you can’t decide, it’s OK to have a small sliver of each.

Pack up leftovers. If you’re hosting, send food home with guests and put some in the freezer. The food will be good for three to six months in the freezer, and keeping it out of sight will make it less tempting to nibble. Same idea goes for leftover dessert — don’t put leave them on the counter to tempt you, Seidel said.

Black Friday

Eat breakfast. We’re sensing a theme here.

Make leftovers into healthy meals. Here are a few ideas from Toth and Seidel:

  • A healthy turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with white meat, lettuce and tomato
  • Small portions of leftover sides
  • Make a veggie salad

Get moving. Another oldie, but goodie.

‘You have to be committed’

But what do you do if you have to eat Thanksgiving dinner every single day for weeks?

Eating a full meal on stage is a rarity, “The Humans” cast said, admitting they didn’t realize how much food they’d have to eat until they started rehearsing.

The audience is so close that they can see the plates and could tell if the actors were just pushing food around, said J. Tucker Smith, who plays Brigid’s dad, Erik Blake. “The eating is part of the charm of the play.”

In the play, Brigid’s mom, dad, sister and grandma visit the couple to celebrate the holiday.

The Thanksgiving foods are real — though the deserts and booze are fake — and prepared by Community Kitchen Pittsburgh. Leftovers go to Jubilee Soup Kitchen.

Since the director said the actors have to eat, there was no choice in the matter. So if you’re going to eat and act, you might as well go all out, they said.

“It’s like crying on stage, you have to be committed,” said Arash Mokhtar, who plays Saad.

Eating while talking is all about timing, the actors said, adding they have to know when to take a bite so they can chew before their next line. But it’s not always an exact science.

“I don’t mind talking with some food in my mouth, but there have been times when I had to swallow chunks of turkey [to talk,]” Mokhtar said.

It’s real to be talking with a mouthful, Smith said.

“Especially with family,” added Charlotte Booker, who plays Brigid’s mom, Deirdre.

But they did offer a few tips:

  1. Take small bites.
  2. Drink lots of liquid.
  3. Push food to the side of your mouth if you need to talk with a mouthful. (Sorry, Mom.)
  4. Have a napkin ready … just in case.

Since dinner is part of the play, the actors said they don’t eat dinner before the show. Instead, Smith and Mokhtar said, they eat a few hours earlier. Mokhtar added he turns to something healthy like a hardboiled egg.

For Booker, “I’m eating more veggies in real life.”

Watch ‘Humans’ repeatedly eat dinner

Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of "The Humans" tells the story of the Blake family on Thanksgiving. Brigid and Richard host her family for dinner in their Chinatown apartment in this comedy. Show times and ticket prices vary.

Where:O’Reilly Theater at 621 Penn Ave. (Downtown)

When:September 9, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. to December 10, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.

How much:$25 to $58