If there’s one day of the year that you’re bound to fall off the weight-watching wagon, it’s Thanksgiving. The name says it’s about appreciation, but who are we kidding, it’s about getting as much food in your face as you can before passing out on the couch between your cousin and the dog.
The average American will gorge on 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thursday, according to the American Council on Exercise. Yeah, that’s a day-and-a-half’s worth of calories in one sitting – and four times your daily fat allowance. Add that to all the snowflake cookies drifting in with the approach of Christmas and you’re looking at an extra pound before the new year. It’s a slippery, delicious slope.
Health and nutrition experts recommend a number of strategies to help you keep yourself in check on Thanksgiving, like preloading with a handful of nuts before the big meal so you’re not ravenous when you sit down. Keep occupied to avoid mindless grazing and commit to eating only once the dinner bell rings. Use a small plate to force portion control (note: piling pie slices is cheating). Eat slowly, so your body has time to realize when you’re full – and then, you know, close your mouth.
These are great suggestions. And I probably won’t heed them. My gut tells me (between furious rumblings) that I am not alone. We’re not bad people, we’re just hungry, dagnabbit.
"If you live a healthy lifestyle, there is always room for a ‘splurge’ day," says Devin Alexander, author of The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook.
Matthew Della Porta, YouBeauty's Happiness expert, stresses that if you choose to indulge, do it with your maw and your mind. "We need to not only make a decision, but one that we are comfortable with," he advises. "Chances are this means eating whatever you want on Thanksgiving and not giving yourself a hard time about it."
Whether you go into Thursday planning to eat your face off, or you simply Thanks-give in, you can be a glutton for pie without being a glutton for punishment. Here are three ready-to-serve excuses for enjoying Thanksgiving to your fullest.
1. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither were your thighs.
"Nobody becomes overweight or in poor health by splurging for one day," says celebrity nutritionist J.J. Virgin, C.N.S. You could spend the whole next day, week, month, kicking yourself. Or you could kick yourself back into gear.
"If you do choose to overeat, you just need to let it go and go back to your normal routine and not beat yourself up," Alexander advises.
You’re not going to be able to just burn it all off in one guilt-fueled workout marathon – unless you’re prepared to run for four hours, swim for five or walk 30 miles. Forgive yourself for your Turkey Day transgression and make a concerted effort to stop a dangerous cycle before it starts.
"You have to think about the long-term consequences of your actions," Virgin continues. "You’re creating hormonal and metabolic imbalances that will create cravings and further derail your efforts down the line." You’ll just be bouncing back from the tryptophan and heartburn when the holiday parties start. Will you let yourself go then, too? You got one Diet Be Damned card. Play it wisely.
2. Resistance is futile.
Moderation is hard and the sheer notion of zero-tolerance dieting in the face of this bountiful feast is a cruel joke. According to research by Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, willpower is a limited resource that relies on glucose. As you work to resist indulging, blood glucose levels get depleted, impairing your ability to hold out.
"Saying no-no-no to yourself all the time is frustrating, difficult and unpleasant – and it burns up your limited stock of willpower, making it harder to resist temptation. In fact, upping your blood sugar aids self-control," Baumeister explains.
What’s more, it takes self-control to quietly listen to your father tell that stupid story again and to gracefully dodge probing questions about your career/love life/conservative investment strategy. And, warns Della Porta, if you're conflicted or resentful about your dining plan, it may interfere with having a good time with family and friends. Which leads us to Number Three…
3. You've got better things to worry about.
There’s a reason you don’t see your entire family every week. That many people who know you that well, all in one room? Terrifying. But important. Practicing tradition and rituals passed down through generations has been shown to strengthen relationships, and as the "kin keepers" of the family, women are often responsible for leading the pack. Recreating your great-grandmother’s stuffing or leading the annual round of "What I’m Thankful For" can be a powerful way to reinforce family unity – especially if your family only unites once a year.
As YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D. wrote in a column last year, "these rituals are the glue that binds you together as a family ... The shared experiences help to create closeness among members of the family, even if those events feel stressful at the time."
So focus on what matters instead of what’s on your plate. Then, if you end up putting on a few, you can blame your mother.