Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family and fat. It doesn’t matter if you’ve yet to succumb to the Freshman 15, if you go to the ARC every week or even if you haven’t eaten dessert all year; when you go home on Thursday, odds are you will gain weight. But you already know this.
Each year, Americans share the common belief that they gain about 5 pounds during the holiday season. But according to A “Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain,“ a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), you’re wrong.
Here’s the good news: the average American only gains somewhere from 0.8 to 1.1 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year‘s.
The bad news is you won’t be losing it.
Studies similar to this have shown time and again that just one big meal can, in fact, harm you. Over the course of a year, the average American gains about 1.2 pounds. That means that the vast majority of the weight Americans gain each year is gained during the holiday season alone.
And for a noticeable minority of the population, they actually have a net weight loss during the rest of the year, according to a March 2000 release by the National Institute of Health.
So what is it exactly that is the major cause of this fattening? Let’s look at some components of a “standard” Thanksgiving meal, using, among other sources, Dr. Liz Applegate’s Nutrition Basics for Better Health and Performance:
Dark meat turkey, 6 ounces: 1,279 calories; macaroni & cheese, 1 cup: 500 calories; stuffing, 1 cup: 356 calories; sweet potatoes, 1 cup: 350 calories; mashed potatoes, 1 cup: 237 calories; green bean casserole, 1 cup: 222 calories; cranberry sauce, 0.5 cups: 210 calories; pecan pie, 1 slice small: 450 calories; ice cream, vanilla, 1 cup: 288 calories
Grand total: 3892 calories.
Of course, everyone’s standard meal is different. Some are vegetarians. In that case, 6 ounces of a Tofurky roast is only 286 calories. Although 6 ounces is often listed as the serving size, few people stick to this. And that goes for most of the foods listed. It is not hard to see the calorie count skyrocket.
So what is it that these calories amount to?
The calories can be put in terms of what a 155-pound individual would have to do to work off the 3892 calories in the “standard” meal:
Running at 10 mph (six-minute miles) for three hours, 27 minutes; or vigorously weight lifting (no rest between exercises with continuously elevated heart rate) for nine hours, 13 minutes; or biking at 10 mph for 13 hours, 51 minutes; or walking for 22 hours, seven minutes; or engaging in vigorous sexual intercourse for 38 hours, nine minutes.
It is easy to think that one big meal won’t affect you, but the above makes it apparent that it can and will.
As anyone who has taken Nutrition 10 can tell you, weight gain is the inescapable consequence of having your caloric intake be greater than your caloric expenditure. So there are two ways to undercut this gain: Eat less or burn more.
Though going against our customs (which, as Michael Hower mentioned in yesterday’s column, are relatively new), it is not necessary to eat as much as one can.
One simple option, according to the American Obesity Association, is just to use smaller plates, which will lead to smaller portions.
Also, if you have the choice between various dishes, go for the more nutritious one. If you’re deciding between a caramelized onion and corn bread stuffing or a cranberry, apple and ginger chutney for a side dish, go with the chutney. You will get much less fat and total calories, as well as getting much-needed vitamins.
Beside just watching what you eat, it is important to think about the rest of the day. If you make yourself go for a morning run, you can burn off about 100 calories for every 10 minutes you are out. While this won’t make a huge impact and make it smart to gorge later, it will reduce the impact from the main meal.
After the meal, go for a walk. This can be a great holiday tradition that lets you spend time with friends and family while still being healthy. Just make sure not to use this as an excuse to eat even more beforehand.
But the most important advice is to remember that Thanksgiving is not just about the food.
So when you wake up Thanksgiving morning, be smart. Start your day with a walk or run. Eat a light snack. And when dinner rolls around, don’t feel like you have to pig out just because it’s Thanksgiving. Twenty Thanksgivings down the line, you should be able to be thankful for your health, not for your stretch-pants.
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.