How to Recover from a Thanksgiving Eating Binge—the Right Way
Don’t panic when you see grandma’s marshmallow sweet potato casserole or that to-die-for pumpkin pie. Fitness and nutrition experts dish on how you can get back on track after you’ve had one too many portions of well, just about everything during Thanksgiving.
It’s that time of year—you’re probably still fighting off the temptations of leftover Halloween candy and now, less than a month later, you’re staring another food fest in the face: Thanksgiving. And boy, do we eat. According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans eat about 4,500 calories during a typical Thanksgiving meal—about 1,500 calories from snacking and 3,000 from the turkey and trimmings. Learn these 17 essential pieces of Thanksgiving meal etiquette.
Don’t beat yourself up
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Start by making sure you don’t feel guilty for indulging. “It’s Thanksgiving—you should enjoy yourself, guilt-free,” says Nathane Jackson, certified strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist, servicing clients from anywhere in the world through his online coaching programs. He reminds people of the importance of food, which provides much-needed energy and serves as the building blocks for survival. Additionally, this is a time to connect with friends and family, not to get bogged down with anxieties over food choices. “After all,” he says, “it’s not what we eat on holidays that ultimately make us gain body fat; it’s our eating habits over the other 355-360 days of the year.”
Don’t make it a multi-day food fest
With the long weekend following Thanksgiving, it may be easy to eat pies and treats the entire time. Someone has to polish off those leftovers over the course of a few days, right? Not so fast, warns Lisa Garcia, registered dietitian at Food Coach, LLC in Laconia, New Hampshire. “One day is just a blip, but if you go four days making those kinds of choices, it’ll be harder to get back into a routine,” she says. “And if you didn’t have a routine, start on Friday.” Greg Robinson, natural pro bodybuilder and owner of Retro Fitness of East Brunswick in New Jersey, agrees. “Allow yourself to enjoy some of the treats on this day—just don’t overindulge,” he says. “The mistake everyone makes is they think by having a treat or two, their diet is destroyed and go on an all-out binge.” But not to fear—it’s not like you won’t recognize yourself in the mirror overnight. “Your body doesn’t immediately put on body fat because of one ‘off’ day or by eating a cookie or piece of pie,” Robinson adds. “Your body will restore back to its normal weight in a few days. Do not panic because the scale moved; this is normal and due to the excess carbohydrates and salt you have consumed, which will pass.” Try one of these 9 meaningful Thanksgiving traditions.
Keep post-Thanksgiving day temptations at bay by planning your activity ahead. “Having a plan ahead of time helps cut some of this problem off at the pass,” says Elaine Howley, a freelance writer and marathon swimmer who—among her many impressive credentials—was the first person to swim the 32.3-mile length of Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho and holds the record for the fastest 16-mile double crossing of Boston Harbor. “But it’s important to remain flexible if things change.” She says that if something comes up to derail a morning swimming pool workout, she’ll go later and swim by herself. When it comes to food choices, Garcia also says to plan well. Keep tempting items out of sight, she suggests, and instead put the fruit bowl out. “Make sure to stock the refrigerator and pantry with healthy choices to get on track the day after.”
Don’t forego eating certain meals the next day in an effort to make up for the extra calories consumed during Thanksgiving. That’s a definite don’t, Garcia says of attempting to undo a day of overindulging. Instead, she encourages people to eat breakfast the morning after. Her suggestion: oatmeal—unflavored with our own healthy spices or fruits, not the prepackaged kinds. She explains that it’s a whole-grain fiber that keeps you feeling fuller longer while keeping blood sugar from spiking. If you discover that you’re not too hungry the next day, Jackson suggests focusing on having about one gram per pound of body weight of protein, while making sure that the rest of the meal is comprised of vegetables and leafy greens. “Protein helps keep you satiated while the vegetables and leafy greens supply most of your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and the extra fiber will help with bowel movements,” he explains. These are the 15 best and worst Thanksgiving foods for your weight.
Get back on track immediately
The key to getting back on track post-Thanksgiving is doing so immediately. Start Friday, no excuses. Howley says to consider making the Thanksgiving feast a “sort of the last stop on the gluttony train” and getting “back to business the next day.” For Howley, this means working with her coach the next day during a 10,000-yard swimming workout so she can get right back in the swing of things and prepare for future swimming events. But your workout doesn’t need to be super extensive; Howley says that the point is to get back into your specific fitness routine the very next day to get a jump-start on fitness goals and put all that extra calorie consumption to good use.
Don’t succumb to the food court on Black Friday
Sure, there may be shopping deals too good to pass up on Friday, but just because you’re out and about doesn’t mean you have to make bad food choices. Skip the food court fries or checkout line candy bars and instead, bring fresh fruit. In particular, Garcia says to choose apples, pears, and clementines, which are ideal for their ability to help satisfy a sweet tooth, keep you actively chewing and create feelings of fullness. In fact, she says to eat these healthier foods Friday through Sunday (and any time of the year, for that matter) to stay on track.
Get rid of leftovers
….And not by eating it! Robinson suggests getting leftovers “out of the house as soon as possible.” If you’re hosting, have guests take food back, then get rid of whatever remains. On the other hand, if you’re at someone else’s home, don’t take leftovers back with you. He says that most people tend to give into temptation probably “more than we’d like to admit.” Just don’t be wasteful—here are 20 recipe ideas for those Thanksgiving leftovers.
But not by downing another beer or few glasses of sugary, pumpkin-spiced infused drinks. “Water, water, water,” says Garcia. She explains that thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, and it can be difficult to tell the difference, especially during the busy holiday season. Always keep water on hand. It’ll keep you hydrated, and it will help keep food temptations at bay. Also consider clementines, she says, which are healthy and packed with moisture—a snack food win-win! “Water plays an important role in digestion as well as helping the body achieve homeostasis,” Jackson adds. Consider teas, too. He says that teas like chicory or chamomile help support digestion. This is what your favorite Thanksgiving dish says about you.
Go easy on your workouts
Just because you heaped on tons of brown sugar on those already sweet yams and drowned your turkey in gravy doesn’t mean you should live at the gym the next day. “Do not ramp up extra cardio or hours in the gym prior, during, or after Thanksgiving,” Robinson says. “One day off doesn’t derail your fitness goals or body fat.” Ramping up weights and spending hours more working out isn’t beneficial he says. “You are essentially doing extra work for no benefit. Keep your gym time and routine as normal as possible and your body will take care of the rest—as long as you return back to normal caloric intake the next day,” he suggests. Jackson adds that exercise helps the body use up extra nutrients floating around the body, but also warns against going overboard. “Whichever form of exercise you prefer will do just fine,” he says. “Even a good brisk walk will help stimulate digestion.”
Ignore “helpful” graphics
Whether it’s on Pinterest or a favorite health site, we’ve all come across infographics telling us what exercises to do and for how long based on how much we’ve eaten. Ignore them, Robinson says, adding that they’re completely misleading and only “reinforce the good food/bad food guilt epidemic.” The truth is, people burn calories throughout the day, regardless of exercising of not. “It’s called your basal metabolic rate (BMR),” he says. “This is the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest to keep vital functions going, such as breathing and keeping warm.” Next up, learn the 31 clever ways to avoid holiday weight gain.