Eat, Drink, Be Merry AND Exercise: Minimizing The Impact Of The Thanksgiving Day Feast

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  It is a time in the US where we reflect on the blessings we have had in the previous year and gather together to  celebrate family, friends and football.  First declared a holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, Thanksgiving Day tradition centers around food and decadent culinary indulgences.  In 2012, over 280 million turkeys (or about 7 billion pounds) have been sold for Thanksgiving amounting to $3 billion dollars of sales.  91% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving.  The US produced 750 million pounds of cranberries this year and nearly 20% of all cranberries consumed in the US are eaten on Thanksgiving Day.

The average American will consume over 5000 calories in one Thanksgiving meal.  Most Americans will gain 1-5 pounds during the holiday and many are never able to get these pounds back off.  Over the years, this excess weight accumulates and contributes to the obesity epidemic in the US today.  Most diners do not engage in any physical activity either before or after the meal.  A single serving of turkey or stuffing or pie can contain 500 calories each.  Many families celebrate the meal with wine and other alcoholic beverages as well.  In fact, data from the CDC shows that more alcohol is consumed in the US on the night before Thanksgiving than any other holiday (including New Years Eve, St Patrick’s Day or Christmas).  Alcohol contains lots of “empty calories” and can significantly contribute to holiday weight gain.

Biologically, eating a decadent meal such as a typical American Thanksgiving Day feast has been shown to create measurable changes in blood levels of triglycerides (fats) and other hormones.  In addition, indulgent meals have also been shown to increase the stiffness of arteries throughout the body (such as the coronary arteries).  These biologic changes can put patients already at risk for heart attack and stroke at even greater risk for these events.  Luckily, exercise, even modest amounts, has been shown to quickly reverse these detrimental changes.

What strategies can we employ in order to proactively combat the holiday weight gain?  

1. Eat a hearty breakfast.  Many people will avoid eating all day long and focus on one decadent holiday meal.  By eating breakfast, you are able to temper your appetite and avoid overeating at the Thanksgiving meal.  In addition, the chef of the home should begin cooking the meal just after breakfast.  This reduces the nibbling and “sampling” that goes on during the cooking process.

2. Serve the holiday meal in the middle of the day.  By serving the large meal at midday, you are able to promote and create time for physical activity both before and after eating.  Eating later in the day can result in slower metabolism and accumulation of fat.  In addition, by eating earlier in the day, you are less likely to eat multiple large meals in the same day.

3. Portion control and a strategic approach to the buffet.  When approaching a large holiday meal, focus on choosing and eating the healthier foods first.  Fill up with vegetables and other more nutritious items.  Certainly, sample all of the holiday goodies but limit portion sizes when you do.  Avoid seconds–it is better to save the second plate for leftovers the next day.

4. Drink lots of water.  It is important to remain hydrated on Thanksgiving Day.  Drinking lots of water helps with the metabolism of your meal and also gives you a “full” feeling throughout the day so that you do not gorge and “pig out” when the time for the holiday meal arrives.

5. Start a new family tradition.  Incorporate exercise into your Thanksgiving Day.  Take a walk as a family before the meal and consider a second walk after the meal BEFORE sitting down for dessert.  Often, by exercising, we are able to reduce our appetite and curb hunger prior to the meal and dessert.

Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate our good fortune with friends and family.  However, it is also a time that many Americans over-indulge in both food and alcohol.  Holiday related bad habits can lead to obesity and obesity-related illness.  Certainly, it is important to enjoy the wonderful holiday
meal and the company of family and friends.  However, by incorporating healthy eating strategies and a little family exercise into the festivities we can all avoid the unwanted pounds and unneeded calories.

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