According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American could take in up to 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. However many calories you do end up consuming, it’s important to avoid starting a vicious cycle that can result in a net weight gain once the holidays have run their course.
The Calorie Control Council estimates your Thanksgiving dinner could account for 3,000 calories. The remaining 1,500 could come from the appetizers and drinks you down during the cocktail hour. What’s more, the council emphasizes their point by comparing the fat intake of those Thanksgiving calories to three sticks of butter—not a very appetizing thought.
Unless you’re an NFL lineman, does eating 4,500 calories a day seem farfetched? Tara Parker Pope at the New York Times put together an over-the-top Thanksgiving feast of her own. After starting with a pile of dark meat (more calories and fat), sausage stuffing, adding all the starchy, sugary trimmings and finishing off the menu with a slice each of pumpkin and pecan pie (who couldn’t resist having both), she came up with about 2,500 calories.
Calorie control strategies
If you throw in a few cocktails it wouldn’t be hard to approach the 3,000-calorie claim made by the Council. How can you avoid such gluttony? Don’t skip meals in order to show up at the table ravenously hungry. Start the day with a healthy, protein-rich breakfast. Doing so will naturally lower your calorie intake for the rest of the day. You’ve got the day off, so make time for some exercise to offset the extra calories that come later.
During the main event, slow down and savor the food. Put down your fork and cleanse your palette with a sip of water between bites. After your plate is clear, socialize at the table for a while to give your body a chance to signal your brain that you may have had enough. Be sure to save room for dessert.
Physiology of overeating
Overeating during the holidays can screw up your body chemistry, confuse your appetite signals and result in extra pounds. Too much food can over-stimulate the normal physiology of converting food for energy and repair, forcing your body into store calories as fat. A vicious cycle can ensue.
Your pancreas must crank out extra insulin to get the excess sugar out of your bloodstream and into the cells. It keeps churning out insulin until the brain senses safe blood sugar levels. Often before the brain can shut the pancreas down, too much sugar has been removed from the blood, you crash and you crave more food. Consistent overeating during the holidays can also disrupt the connection between your stomach and your brain, blunting the feeling that you’re stomach is full.
According to Dr. David Katz, your body will prioritize 1,000 of those Thanksgiving calories to be immediately stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen, a substance used for immediate energy. Fat tissue is the body’s depot for reserve energy storage. Stored glycogen is used up quickly during exercise. Then the body activates fat tissue to be converted into energy for muscles.
A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training will help defend your normal weight during the holidays. Aerobic exercise—activity that increases your heart rate and breathing, makes your body better at activating that fat tissue for energy. Strength training—challenging your muscles to maintain or increase their mass, is also important for burning calories. Muscle tissue is hungry for calories, even when you’re at rest. The more muscle you have, the more holiday calories your body will burn.
Calorie Control Council
New York Times