Nutrition Articles

Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Make it Through the Day...Guilt-Free

A gathering of close friends and family is one of the happiest times of year for all of us. Celebrations like Thanksgiving can distract us from our everyday worries…but they can distract us from our diets too. Here’s what you need to know so that the only thing you’re "adding on" this holiday is joy.

A Small Glimpse Into Reality

Counting Calories
The average American will consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day alone, according to the Caloric Control Council. Surprisingly, most of these calories come from the all-day snacking in front of the TV while watching parades and sporting events.

The Truth about Fat
So what happens to all those extra calories? Caloric intake above your total daily energy expenditure (calories in > calories out) is converted into droplets, which are gobbled up by your fat cells. One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories.

Luckily, following puberty, the body has developed all of its fat cells. Unfortunately, fat cells can never go away. Although they can shrink, you can never actually get rid of the cell itself.

How Many Pounds?
There’s good and bad news here. You’ve probably heard that the average person gains 7-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year. However, a joint study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Medical University of South Carolina found that the average person’s weight gain is just over one pound. Sounds harmless, but…

The researchers found that the extra weight is stubborn—still present a year later on 85% of study participants. Gaining one extra pound each year can add up significantly, especially if it ends up sticking around forever, as the study suggests.

You’re Getting Very, Very…very…sleepy
Americans consume over 675 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day! Although turkey contains a natural sedative called Tryptophan, the chemical doesn’t have a large effect because it’s mixed with everything else you eat. That "food coma" you experience is actually the result of your body working overtime to digest all that food!
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Member Comments

  • Nima...- I love your ideas. I cook the food for my Mom at her house, then bring home the leftovers. This year I will pack a few take home plates for myself. Make a few for her since she is 95 and does not cook much. Then I am packing some take home cartons to send with my sons and their families. No leftovers to take home except my plates.

    Plus I will try to exercise while cooking with other suggestions.

    Have a great Thanksgiving. - 11/22/2014 1:06:05 PM
    Why is there always this dumb "guilt" thing sent out there about any holiday? If you feel "guilty" about eating something extra on a holiday, stay home in your room by yourself. It's not gonna kill you to eat something extra on a holiday, the next day you go back to your usual plan, whatever it is. Unless you are yanking food out of someone else's mouth to eat, no need to feel this holiday "Guilt" junk!! - 11/14/2014 1:58:14 PM
  • I've been bringing my own food for about 4 years now, since I lost 50 lbs. I'm not crazy about the whole Thanksgiving feast, especially since the in-laws feast is very fat-laden, greasy foods, even the vegetables. I started adding a baked pork tenderloin and steamed veggies, but they aren't going to eat anything outside of their norm, and criticize the "uncooked" veggies, and the fact the pork has no gravy, etc.

    So now, I bring what I will eat, and if I have dessert, it is normally just one piece and maybe a piece for another day, but I don't bring anything else home, especially the entire cherry pie that she insists she buys just for me.

    Everyone should enjoy their Thanksgiving their way. Without a ton of waste. - 11/14/2014 10:33:49 AM
    Okay I find it really hard to believe that Americans eat almost 700 pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving. That's more than 2 pounds a person (and I'm sure babies eat those 2 pounds as well). Anyway, my calories come from the pie :) - 11/11/2012 11:18:43 PM
  • Cook plenty of fresh autumn vegetables. That's certainly in keeping with the tradition. Roast some colorful root vegetables. Have a raw veggie tray. Try a new butternut squash soup. Yummmmm! - 11/11/2012 7:02:20 PM
  • Not only did this article really help me feel better prepared and less worried about the upcoming holidays but it also got me to thinking about something. I've of course known the 3,500 number for years, since it's important to know for weight loss, and of course we all know that it's the extra calories that get converted to fat. But it was the way this author described it that really struck me. Doing the math: I'm roughly 100 pounds over my ideal weight. This means I have 350,000 unused calories, accumulated over 23 years, sitting in my body still waiting to be used. That really painted an amazing picture for me, and not a negative one but a positive. It's time to cash in all those 350,000 calories and put them to good use! Come on, calories, sitting time is over, you've got work to do, let's go! PS I can picture all those little fat globules saying, "Finally, we get to do something, yay!!!" :) - 11/11/2012 6:11:03 PM
  • This article was really helpful and had some great reminders. I always have to tell myself to be realistic and remember, "maintaining is better than gaining".
    :) - 11/11/2012 4:31:57 PM
  • Thanksgiving and Xmas are always tough! I just remember to balance it out throughout the day within my calorie intake and I know it will all work out just fine. It takes the bricks off your shoulders when you have that in place to follow. Balance, balance, balance. :) Everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know I will. - 11/11/2012 1:37:36 PM
  • Thanks for the guide it will be helpful. But I usually eat only one serving and only once through out the day of thanksgiving. - 11/11/2012 10:25:52 AM
  • The article makes excellent point about the "food coma". I have so often heard it blamed on the tryptophan in the turkey, it didn't even occur to me that it was because of just how much food is consumed. My family still does turkey at Thanksgiving, but at Christmas we stopped doing the big meal because it was just too much work. Instead we lay out a spread of simpler foods on the table so that people can get food as they want it. For me, the key is to NOT fill my plate each time I go to the table; only go to the table when I actually feel hungry; and each time I get food, half of what I take must be veggies and fruits. - 11/21/2008 11:36:16 AM
  • Happy Thanksgiving. - 11/21/2008 12:53:04 AM
  • This is my traditional Thanksgiving trick for not gaining any weight that week.
    I take 4 rubbermaid sealable plates with me to my Mom's. When I make my plate for dinner I use regular portions and I don't go back for seconds. WHY? Because when everyone is finished and I am cleaning up I make myself all 4 plates with normal protions and pack them in the cooler for the ride home.
    That way I can have another plate any time I want it and don't feel drprived from eating a normal right size portion at the main meal.
    I feel better, I don't gain and I get to enjoy that wonderful meal 4 more times and think about the wonderful conversation at the table.
    I have a guiltless Thanksgiving and Christmas this way. - 10/1/2008 4:01:15 PM
  • I'm printing this one and leaving it on the kitchen table on 'T" Day. The 4 daughters can read it while we cook! Thanks! - 11/19/2007 5:50:08 PM
  • This is a great motivator to stay on track during the T-day celebrations. - 11/19/2007 12:47:56 PM
  • This excellent article is a good reminder for me. - 11/19/2007 8:55:41 AM

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