I have a problem with Thanksgiving. Or maybe it’s the 20 different diet plans you’ll see suggested, everything from complete withdrawal of your favorite foods, to eating everything in sight and then fasting before or after the event.
The issue isn’t with the celebration; instead, it’s the fitness and diet industry’s treatment of a holiday designed for being with family, relaxing, expressing thanks and giving back to those that have less.
Every year you’ll read posts about how to save calories, avoid bad foods, and quick weight loss tricks that essentially suck the fun out of a holiday that really is designed for a little bit of gluttony or a break from your normal eating habits. People will say we should not use food as a reward. And that makes perfect sense.
But that’s not what this is. This is a holiday where food is part of the culture and tradition.
I don’t think this is a bad thing. Want to know what’s really wrong?
Trying to convince people that they should eat less on one day, rather than preach enjoying the day and building better habits for the rest of the week or even the entire holiday season. This is the real danger to weight loss, and it’s a trend that repeats itself every year.
In Support of the Feast: The Logic of Fat Gain
You’ll see plenty of stats about how the average American will gain anywhere between 5 and 10 pounds between now and the end of the year on diet plans that lose all focus.
Guess what? That weight gain does not occur in a day or two. That’s the same flawed diet plan mentality that drives so many diets books trying to pinpoint the “one factor” that causes weight gain or sparks weight loss.
Go ahead and eat to your heart’s content on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Sure, the scale might move a little, but most of what you see and feel will be smoke and mirrors that would regulate within 24 to 48 hours if the feast is limited to a day. Water weight, stomach expansion, and a bunch of other fun physiological changes will make everything you down on turkey day appear much worse than the real damage.
The truth: One day of bad eating or overeating doesn’t make much of a difference. That’s not how fat loss or weight gain works. To prove the point, turn your feast into a math problem.
Calorie math has made big strides in the past few years. But for the sake of this argument, let’s say you were worried about one bad day turning you from lean to lumpy. You’d have to roughly eat 3,500 more calories than you typically consume. (It’s probably even more than that. And yes, the old 3,500 calories equals a pound isn’t exactly accurate, but this example still proves a powerful point.)
I eat about 2,500 calories per day on any given diet plan. Meaning that if I wanted to push the scale upwards, I’d have to down more than 6,000 calories. Even then, I probably wouldn’t see a long-term change, unless I maintained my behaviors. That’s because as you gain weight your caloric needs to sustain your new weight increases. So weight gain is not the byproduct of a bad day; it’s the culmination of breakdowns in eating, and a consistent increase in calories that tends to increase without your awareness.
For most people, 2,000 calories because 2,500…and then 3,000, and then it increases from there. Forget demonizing food groups like carbs or sugar. New research shows that carb consumption and sugar consumption are decreasing, and yet our rates of obesity continue to increase.
Many factors are at play and to blame for gaining weight. One bad day of eating — especially on a holiday — is not part of the discussion.
Need more proof? Take the logic of one gluttonous day of eating and applying it to exercise.
Imagine if you spent one entire day exercising, burning calories, and being the human version of the Energizer Bunny (you keep going… and going… and going). And then the rest of the week (or month) you did nothing.
Would you really expect to be healthy, fit, and look incredible?
Of course not. That one day of massive calorie burn would not offset the energy imbalance created by the rest of the time. With weight loss and gain, you have to see the bigger picture and understand that nothing occurs in a vacuum. You don’t gain muscle off of one set of curls; it’s the accumulation of volume and stress over time. And you don’t add fat from the infrequent binge, no matter how ridiculous the meal could become.
Healthy Thanksgiving Diet Plans (Pie Included)
Is this a license to throw all caution to the wind, eat everything you want, and give the middle finger to a healthy diet? Not exactly.
You should still eat with comfort and enjoyment in mind. If you’re doing anything to the point that you don’t feel good, then you’re probably pushing a little too aggressively. Or if you know from past experiences that one big indulgence leads to a month of bad habits, then it’s your job to put some restrictions on how much you eat to prevent the single day of enjoyment from becoming the catalyst of broken eating habits.
But if you eat a little past the point of full, or grab that extra dessert that you’d normally skip, it’s part of what the holidays are about. And in reality, it’s what life is about too. Restriction and living in fear is not how we are meant to spend our time or representative of good, sustainable diet plans. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and sometimes that means eating foods that aren’t healthy.
Instead of embracing food as something that should be enjoyed, our mentality towards eating is completely messed up.
We teach people that when they want a treat — let’s say ice cream — to go for the sugar-free version. So instead of a delicious treat, we eat fake food filled with chemicals that doesn’t even taste as good as the real thing.
And no, this isn’t a rallying cry against fake sugars. After all, research has shown over and over again that they don’t cause weight gain. Instead, this is about an overarching approach to eating, diet, nutrition, and healthy mindset. Disordered eating can take on many forms.
This is life. We are here to live it, enjoy it, and experience the moment. Every day isn’t a party or a holiday. But when those days occur, food stress shouldn’t factor into the equation.
At least 90 percent of your life — let’s call them “work days” — you should be working toward being healthier, building habits, and learning how to be in control of your diet, fitness, and life. This is normal.
But on those few random occurrences — like Thanksgiving — there’s no better time to take a break and not stress about what you’re eating.
It might not seem healthy, but substituting one day where you don’t have rules for 300 other days when you do is a fair, reasonable trade. And it’s one you might want to embrace.
Eat up. Dig in. And enjoy your holiday. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.
And then when the feast is over, shift back to doing what you normally do. That’s enjoying the food you like, and making health something that works for you — rather than feeling like a burden that can ruin special moments and memories.
It’s sustainable, reasonable, and has the ultimate result: making you feel thankful that you can enjoy food and still be healthy.