Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and express gratitude for good health, a safe home, and other blessings. It’s also a time to feast. While a day or two of indulgence wouldn’t hurt, eating clean and staying active during the holiday season ensures the hard work you put into keeping fit doesn't go to waste.
But clean eating during the holidays requires planning. A typical Thanksgiving spread includes foods that contain sugar, butter, cream, and other fattening ingredients — it may be difficult to maintain a healthy weight with such tasty dishes.
Here are information and strategies to help avoid gaining weight during the holidays beginning with Thanksgiving.
How much weight does one gain during the holiday season?
A healthy daily calorie intake is 1,600–2,400 calories for adult women and 2,000–3,000 calories for adult men. According to the Calorie Control Council, the average Thanksgiving dinner consists of 3,000 calories. Adding extra servings of appetizers, alcoholic drinks, and desserts to the equation can increase this to a total of 4,500 calories. This one meal alone clearly exceeds the recommended daily calorie count.
It’s worth noting, however, that eating all those turkey dishes and sweet potato casseroles is not the sole culprit. A 2016 New England Journal of Medicine study found that the average American’s weight increases by 0.4% over Christmas compared to by 0.2% over Thanksgiving.
"A 2016 New England Journal of Medicine study found that the average American’s weight increases by 0.4% over Christmas compared to by 0.2% over Thanksgiving."
The research also revealed that the 10-day period following Christmas is when most of the weight gain occurs. This may be attributed to the fact that people tend to attend multiple dinner parties throughout the season, while some simply resolve to resume their regular diet by New Year’s.
Moreover, many people falsely believe that during winter, the body goes through starvation mode and that the cold weather is, therefore, to blame for their slowed-down metabolism and subsequent weight gain. The real culprits are, in fact, binge-eating, excessive drinking, and the lack of proper exercise.
Does holiday weight come off easily?
On the other hand, some believe that weight gain isn’t something to stress over and that the spirit of Thanksgiving is all that matters. That’s a fair point, but there’s also immense value in keeping things in moderation — that means eating mindfully, staying motivated, and sticking to one’s fitness routine throughout the season.
People who aren’t bothered by gaining weight probably find some comfort in findings that the average holiday weight gain is only 0.37 kilograms or a little less than 1 pound. Gaining a pound or two may seem harmless and not worth skipping holiday favorites for. However, the pounds packed over the holidays aren’t easily shed after the season is over — they accumulate and contribute to the increase in one’s body weight.
With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, you can start clean eating now.
How to avoid gaining weight during Thanksgiving and the holidays
Eat clean during the holidays by following these tips:
1. Use a smaller plate
Grab a smaller plate instead of a regular-sized or a large one to avoid filling it with too much food. Should you go for seconds, you’ll be heaping much less food than if you were using a bigger plate. And once you’re done with your main meal, avoid snacking for the rest of the evening.
2. Eat smart
On your small plate, make sure lean meats and fresh vegetables take up more space than green bean casseroles (high in sodium and fat), stuffing (rich in unhealthy additives), pecan pie (loaded with sugar), and fat-based sauces.
3. Strategize dessert-eating
Select one or two desserts that’ll satisfy your sweets craving and savor it. If you don’t have a sweet tooth but would like dessert anyway, try baked apples, pies made with coconut sugar (instead of white sugar), or any low-sugar fare.
4. Drink no more than 1–2 glasses of alcohol
Drinking alcohol excessively is a sure way to go over the ideal daily calorie intake — note that most alcoholic drinks consist of empty calories or calories with very little to no nutritional value. In that regard, dry wines, vodka, and other low-calorie liquors are ideal options. Cutting back on booze altogether would be best, but if you can’t help it, make sure you drink no more than three units per day. Here’s a useful guide for a safe alcohol intake.
5. Consider intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) isn’t a shortcut to weight loss, but it is a viable solution to curb gaining the dreaded holiday weight. IF entails taking periodic breaks from eating, that is, eating fewer calories than you burn, or eating at a calorie deficit. One of its benefits is that it raises the human growth hormone, which, in turn, increases muscle mass and aids in weight loss.
Intermittent fasting during the holidays may seem particularly challenging, but it can be done without starving yourself. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting for short periods offers metabolic benefits, specifically on one’s circadian biology, gut microbiome, and modifiable lifestyle behaviors. Moreover, it is known to trigger autophagy — which improves cells and tissue function — and enhances exercise tolerance.
Thanksgiving exercise tips
You can follow these simple workout tips before, during, and after Thanksgiving.
1. Move around
Doing chores before and after the Thanksgiving feast, strolling around the neighborhood or in your backyard, or performing body weight exercises in your free time are good ways to burn calories. Any form of exercise beats sitting on the couch or staying at the dinner table. Allot 15–30 minutes of your day to any form of physical activity, whether you’re spending Thanksgiving at home or somewhere else.
2. Stick to your workout
Finding time to work out at a fully equipped gym is even better for burning off calories. You may also want to consider doing a depletion exercise before or after the big feast. This may involve doing high-volume moderate-intensity workouts to burn off excess calories in advance and, therefore, prevent them from turning into gut fat. Per a study published in the Health Psychology journal, those who do some moderate-to-vigorous physical activities have a reduced risk of overeating compared to those who don’t.
If you need more advice on how to lose weight during the holidays, consult Facet Seven’s professional trainers or visit and become a member at our Houston fitness centers — we have locations in EaDo and Heights.