Thanksgiving? More like, “Thanks for giving me these 4 amazing leftover hacks!"
Dont forget to enjoy Thanksgiving food and the day itself
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you're likely to encounter lots of online advice about how to avoid holiday weight gain. There are tips on portion control, on swapping out certain side dishes for lower-calorie options, on healthier, "cleaner" versions of traditionally indulgent dishes.
Given this onslaught of media attention, it's no wonder a fear of weight gain looms over so many Thanksgiving tables.
"It's definitely a very common worry and [that] concern is really understandable," registered dietitian Emily Fonnesbeck told INSIDER. "We live in a culture that has led us to believe that our weight is the most important thing. Going into the holiday season, you could easily feel ... worried about the abundance of food."
But Thanksgiving and holiday weight gain don't necessarily deserve the worry they're often allotted, as Fonnesbeck and registered dietitian Rachael Hartley explained to INSIDER. Here are a few reasons why.
Thanksgiving dinner is just one meal
First, it's good to keep Thanksgiving in perspective. Even an indulgent meal is still just one meal.
"We actually have much more flexibility and much more wiggle room than we've been taught to believe," Fonnesbeck previously told INSIDER. "One meal, one snack, one day, one month, isn't going to make that big of a difference."
A higher-sodium meal can make your body retain fluid. Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDER
It is true, however, that a big meal can have temporary effects on your weight.
"If you eat a pound of food, you will be a pound heavier — at least until you go to the bathroom," Hartley told INSIDER. "That doesn't mean your body has gained weight. If you weigh yourself — I don't recommend it — you'll likely see a gain the next day. But one meal does not cause you to gain weight. Most of what you see is fluid retention from eating what's likely a higher-sodium meal."
Read more:How to deal with body shaming around the holidays — especially from family members
Remember that your weight can fluctuate more than five pounds in a single day because of sweating, breathing, using the bathroom, eating, and drinking, and more — and those fluctuations are normal.
Research shows holiday weight gain isn't as dramatic as you might expect
There isn't much research on the phenomenon of holiday weight gain, and most studies have been performed on small groups of people, but the evidence we have suggests that it's not all that dramatic as we're often led to believe.
"Typically the fear mongering on the internet [says] you're going to gain, like, five to 10 pounds just during the holidays," Fonnesbeck said. "But what we're actually seeing is that it's more like an average of one to two pounds."
Some studies suggest adults do not gain large amounts of weight over the holidays.
Fonnesbeck cited a study published in 2000 in the New England Journal of Medicine that followed 195 adults and found they once the holiday season was over. And in 2019, a review of existing studies concluded that adults gain 0.88 to 2 pounds over the holidays.
Stressing about Thanksgiving weight gain could backfire
It's also possible that extreme concern about Thanksgiving weight gain could lead you to overeat.
"It's really the obsession with weight and preoccupation with food that causes extreme behaviors that could easily affect weight," Fonnesbeck said.
Take, for example, practices like "saving up" for Thanksgiving by skipping meals, or trying to "eat clean" in anticipation of the decadent day. People might think these strategies will minimize the effect of Thanksgiving on their waistlines. But they could have a far different outcome.
"Saving up" for Thanksgiving by skipping meals could cause you to overeat. AP Photo/Larry Crowe
"Then you go into that holiday meal just like a planned binge, really," Fonnesbeck said. "And it can easily lead to overeating and then the feeling of needing to compensate afterward. That's the back and forth: Restriction, and then chaos, and then restriction, and then chaos."
Hartley noted that starting your Thanksgiving meal on an empty stomach could also leave you uncomfortably full.
"I find a lot of people come to the Thanksgiving table ravenously hungry, then blow past the point of feeling satisfied to feeling stuffed," Hartley said. "Feeling a little overly full is normal, and I think even enjoyable on Thanksgiving, but feeling sick to your stomach generally is not. So be sure to eat breakfast, and try to slow down and take pauses throughout the meal, which will make it more enjoyable too."
Read more:5 tricks to avoid uncomfortable conversations, no matter where you are for the holidays
Another popular thinking pattern — the idea you need to squeeze all your indulgence into holidays because you should cut out all treats starting on January 1st — could also prompt out-of-control eating toward the end of the year, Fonnesbeck explained.
But giving yourself permission to enjoy an indulgent meal any time of year — not just in November or December — can relieve some of that pressure to load up on treats before New Year's Eve, making you "more level-headed" around holiday food, she added.
"You can go into the holiday season knowing that you don't have to get all of [that indulgence] right now," Fonnesbeck said. "There's a lot of power in permission."
Don't forget to enjoy Thanksgiving food and the day itself
Thanksgiving is meant to be enjoyed.
Fonnesbeck suggested keeping food in perspective as you approach the holiday season.
"The holidays include food, which is awesome, but they're about more than food," Fonnesbeck said. "And it really is sad to see holiday season after holiday season when people are so focused on food and weight that they're missing just making memories and enjoying themselves."
"There's no right or wrong way to eat on Thanksgiving," she said.
Video: Thanksgiving 2018
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