it’s easy to get wrapped up in healthy side dish recipes, tips for avoiding holiday weight gain, and pre-turkey workouts that make room for an extra slice of pie. But for some people, all that strategizing sucks the joy right out of a day that’s supposed to be about celebrating gratitude with loved ones over lots of delicious food.
“I tell people all the time, if you’re looking forward to Thanksgiving, or any special occasion dining experience, go all out. Eat what you want. Then get back up on the horse again,” says Liz Weinandy, RD, a nutritionist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “But for a lot of people, this is easier said than done because they worry one meal makes or breaks everything.”
How much does one meal really matter?
One single indulgent meal—even one whole day of high-calorie eating—is “absolutely not going to destroy anyone’s metabolism, cause them to gain some tremendous amount of weight, or ruin longer-term goals,” says Weinandy. To gain a notable amount of weight, you’d need to continuously consume more calories than your body can burn over the course of several days.
“Let’s take a person who consumes 2,000 calories daily and maintains her weight,” Weinandy says. “Say she eats 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving. Her body is going to have to store 3,000 extra calories because it can’t burn them.” But she won’t even gain a whole pound. (One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories.) The amount of weight she’ll put on is simply not worth agonizing over, especially at the expense of enjoying the holiday, says Weinandy. Plus, she’ll burn all those calories off in the days to come, by returning to her regular eating habits and workout routine.
Craig Primack, MD, an obesity medicine specialist at the Scottsdale Weight Loss Center in Arizona, agrees that one big meal isn’t enough to cause a noticeable physical difference or weight fluctuation. Might you feel the effects of a fatty, sugary holiday dinner in other ways? Sure. “You’ll probably feel bloated, slightly dehydrated if you’re consuming alcoholic beverages, and potentially uncomfortably full,” says Dr. Primack. “But people know this going in.”
What really matters, says Dr. Primack, is how Thanksgiving influences your behavior in the following days. “It’s worth keeping in mind that you’re going into a four-day weekend full of leftovers,” he says. “And four days of eating off track can definitely have consequences, like weight gain or un-programming all of your great healthy habits. It’s about the bigger picture, not the one meal.” Read more