Photo showing some of the aspects of a traditional US Thanksgiving day dinner.
Photo showing some of the aspects of a traditional US Thanksgiving day dinner. (Photo: Ben Franske/Wikimedia)

5 Ways to Avoid a Thanksgiving Overload

Turkey day doesn’t have to be a caloric disaster

Photo showing some of the aspects of a traditional US Thanksgiving day dinner.
Pam Foxx

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The holiday season has different outcomes for everyone. But skipped workouts, piles of food, and more time on the couch than the trails usually have the same one: a training roadblock.

The scary stats are out there: The average person eats more than 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving day alone, according to data from the Caloric Control Council. But it may not be that bad. A classic study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people usually only gain a pound throughout the holidays (although they also usually keep the weight on).

But that may not be so bad either: “I try to have athletes go into their race seasons a little heavier,” says Stacy Sims, Ph.D., and co-founder of Osmo Nutrition. “You need some weight to be able to lose. It’ll come off when you get back to serious training.”

That’s no green light for plates of stuffing and creamed spinach—but some R and R with friends and family and a few home cooked meals may be just what your body needs. If you approach the season the right way, that is. Follow these five tips to come out of the holidays relaxed and ready.

Up the intensity
Instead of time and distance, focus on short bursts of exercise that can keep your metabolism up, suggests Sims. Body weight circus can be done in dad’s living room, the driveway, or a hotel room alike. Try squats and pushups between sprints down the driveway or five rounds of 10 pushups with 10 1-minute planks in between. You’ll squeeze an effective workout in without missing a beat.

Repeat after us: “I will not go to a holiday party starving.”
Research suggests that we think we’re in better control of tempting situations than we actually are, says Dr. Beth Parker, Director of Exercise Physiology Research at Hartford Hospital. “This promotes a false confidence that leads to overindulgence.” Don’t set yourself up for disaster: Head to the shindig down the street with a grumbling stomach and you’ll beeline it for the cheese plate—and never leave. Protein before the party, though, will fill you up and help you eat less—studies have demonstrated so. Stick with lettuce wraps and selections of meat once you’re there. “High-carb foods don’t help anyone with energy levels,” says Sim.

Practice saying no
Packing on pounds in the short-term can sometimes be attributed to low inhibitory control—the ability to say no to overeating, particularly certain trigger foods, says Dr. Parker. Do this: “Evidence suggests that repeatedly practicing saying ‘no’ reduces intake of highly tempting foods such as chocolate.”

Wake up your muscles
Remember that feeling when you do a different sort of workout (and all of a sudden feel those muscles that you didn’t know existed)? Although it may not be a peak performance time, the holidays are a great time to gain variety in your workouts, says Dr. Parker. Weight-lifting, walking, hiking, CrossFit, football in the backyard—all burn calories and increase muscle mass, helping alleviate weight gain, she says. (Plus, it’s an easier way to score face time with that cousin you’d really rather not sit down and chat with.) 

Don’t try to compensate
Weight loss is not an eye for an eye—and thinking that you can minimize the effect of those five pieces of pumpkin pie by skipping dinner or heading out for a run can backfire, says Dr. Parker. “Research suggests that individuals with greater compensatory beliefs actually eat more.” Avoid situations that set you up for hunger—like exercising on empty stomach in the a.m., says Sims. And remember: Excessive weight gain has long-term problems for fitness and weight maintenance, but it’s about the overall picture—not a few days, says Dr. Parker.

Lead Photo: Ben Franske/Wikimedia

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