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The Thanksgiving Dilemma

Trying to get my 1 year old to read, I took him to the bookstore for story time. With it just around the corner, the story was about Thanksgiving. I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, by Alison Jackson. If you haven’t read it before, it starts with the lady eating a whole pie, then a whole squash, then a whole roll, then a big turkey, and then a ten-layer cake all on Thanksgiving Day. Then she floated like a balloon in the Thanksgiving parade.

Funny? I didn’t think so.

As the toddlers enjoyed the rhymes, I was troubled. Are we nurtured to associate Thanksgiving with loads and loads of food? Is that just normal? Is this what we are teaching our kids to do—stuff ourselves until “perhaps [we’ll] die?”

Perhaps that’s why dietitians have jobs.

Seriously, it’s amazing how Thanksgiving is more about the bird, the pumpkin pie, the casseroles, the stuffing, and the list goes on. Did we forget that Thanksgiving is about having memorable moments with family and friends? The pilgrims—after the lack of food—celebrated a hearty meal when they had abundance. Today we’re in a state of overabundance, 365 days of the year. I think we are asking our bodies to handle too much.

I watched The Doctors yesterday, and they asked the audience to guess how many extra calories the average American eats during the holidays; six hundred calories. I don’t know where they got the number from, but it makes sense. A second helping of potatoes, an extra dollop of gravy, a piece of pie, and you’re already taking in more than you need. Did I mention that you probably didn’t exercise that morning and plan not to in the evening as well?

One guy said his Thanksgiving “feasting” switch turns off after 10 days. Wow. That’s 6,000 calories and almost 2 pounds of weight gain. And the holiday season is not over yet. Yikes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone does that. In fact, people don’t gain that much weight during the holidays. The 5-pound-weight-gain myth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is busted. A study found that people on average gain only 1 pound. Great. What happens to that pound isn’t. Most people don’t lose it during the weeks and months after. Ten years later, they wonder how they used to fit in size 6.

My purpose is not to spoil your Thursday dinner. Instead, I wish for you to savor the meal, enjoy every bite, be thankful for your health, and still keep your pant’s button in place.

So what can you do?

Cut back on amounts.

The turkey’s not going anywhere. Neither the pie nor the stuffing. Instead of serving seconds, keep some leftovers. My husband’s favorite part of Thanksgiving is the shredded turkey sandwich on Friday.  You probably don’t have time to stand in line for lunch at the mall anyways. Just pack yours!

Don’t eat from everything.

If you can’t get yourself to eat less of everything, then don’t eat from everything. Just because there are 4 different sides on the table, it doesn’t mean you have to eat from each. A study showed that the less variety you eat, the fewer calories you take in. So pass on some dishes. Pick the most delicious one or two sides and that should be the end of it. The same goes for dessert too.

If you are making the dinner—for goodness sake—don’t make too much!

Make enough but don’t go overboard. People will feel obliged to eat so they don’t offend you. The tax they pay is their wellbeing. So take care of your loved ones and spare them the Thanksgiving coma.

Make, or bring, some healthier options.

Can you steam fresh green beans instead of the creamy casserole? Can you make the casserole with low-fat mushroom soup? Can you bake the potatoes?  Can you eat the turkey breast without the skin? Some dishes just have to be done exactly the “right” way, but not all dishes have to. Make sure there’s one healthy option on the table.

Try to be active.

Go for a walk, dance, play Wii Fit, or play that Yoga DVD you’ve bought to teach your grandmother. Anything that gets you moving helps. Whatever it takes.

Be realistic.

If you’re trying to lose weight, Thanksgiving is not the time. Your goal is to maintain, so stick to that. Monday is the time to go back to the gym.

And don’t forget to have a good time!


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  • Farah November 27, 2009, 7:49 pm

    You are right that we need to limit ourselves. Its so hard to have self control when all that stuff is sitting right in front of you! I was thinking, next time, I’m just going to use a salad plate, the less I can put on my plate, the less I’ll eat, and the less bad i’ll feel going back for seconds! Thanks for the tips– too bad i read them after I already ate 🙁

  • NourRD November 27, 2009, 11:12 pm

    I hope you at least enjoyed your dinner!