Thanksgiving may be about family, football, and giving thanks.
But it’s also about turkey, pie, and all the other fixings.
As a result, the season of holiday weight gain gets put into gear during the fourth Thursday of November.
How many calories will you eat this Thanksgiving?
Well, it depends if you go back for seconds (or thirds), how your turkey is prepared, and whether or not you’re a fan of alcohol.
But we broke down one possible Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, sides, two kinds of pie, and two alcoholic beverages.
Thanksgiving Calorie Bomb Breakdown
|turkey, whole, meat and skin, cooked, roasted||189|
|canned mashed sweet potatoes||258|
|homemade mashed potatoes w/ milk||237|
|homemade roast turkey||189|
|green bean casserole||111|
|cranberry sauce, canned||40|
The total count? Approximately 2,715 calories.
Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, said a hearty Thanksgiving meal likely has far more calories than you need during a single sitting.
“That could be almost double the amount of calories someone needs for a day,” she said.
The effect on your body
Researchers can actually measure the toll all those calories take on the body shortly after a meal.
“It is putting a little bit of a strain on the body. It’s causing a huge spike in your blood sugar level, which tends to cause a release of insulin out of your pancreas,” Jamieson-Petonic told Healthline.
She also said that this influx of foods can cause certain proteins to be released that increase inflammation to the body.
“If you’re eating a high-fat meal, it’s causing an increase in these inflammation proteins… and all these other bad guys that really cause a lot of damage to our body,” Jamieson-Petonic said. “We can literally see damage on an ultrasound within one hour of eating an unhealthy meal.”
The Cleveland Clinic also points out that studies suggest eating a big meal can increase the risk of having a heart attack 26 hours after chowing down.
“Researchers believe that this could be because eating raises levels of the hormone norepinephrine, which can increase blood pressure and heart rate,” officials at the Cleveland Clinic explained on their website.
Then, there’s the weight
Eating an excessive meal one time isn’t likely to lead to permanent weight gain.
But if it’s just the beginning season of heavy eating, it can mean putting on a few extra holiday pounds that become difficult to lose in the new year.
“When you have to deal with all these extra nutrients, the body has to decide to use it as fuel or store it as fat,” Jamieson-Petonic said.
According to one study, people weighed approximately 0.5 percent more 10 days after Christmas than 10 days before.
“I’m not trying to be a doom-and-gloom kind of girl here, but eating this food and this type of food can cause negative health impacts over time,” Jamieson-Petonic said.
Not surprisingly, Jamieson-Petonic added most people won’t feel great after eating such a big meal.
“Eating that much food makes people feel rundown and sluggish,” she said.
How to do a healthier Thanksgiving
But if you want to figure out how to enjoy Thanksgiving without hurting your body, Jamieson-Petonic has a few tips.
First, be active during the holidays, she said.
On Thanksgiving Day, running during a Turkey Trot or even going for a walk around the neighborhood can be helpful.
“The first thing that I would recommend is to start the holiday with activity,” she said. “It will get your metabolic rate going. It will help you buffer some of those extra calories.”
She also recommends eating a healthy breakfast.
“If you don’t eat breakfast, you tend to eat more calories at lunch or Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “So having a good breakfast will also help as well.”
If you’ve been waiting all year for your favorite pumpkin pie or stuffing, you don’t have to give it up, Jamieson-Petonic said. Instead, she recommends prioritizing what goes on your plate.
“We always tell people, if it’s not fabulous, don’t eat it,” she said. “If there’s certain favorite foods that you have that you eat once a year, by all means, enjoy them.”
In general, Jamieson-Petonic hopes that people make an effort to focus on the family over the food portion of the holiday.
“Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for what we have. It’s not about how many calories can I consume today,” she said.