Reed Vawter, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LD
Health Education Consultant
“I gain five pounds every Thanksgiving!”
I hear this phrase a lot around this time of year. And while I don’t doubt that the scale might move by five pounds, I also don’t believe that anyone is gaining five actual pounds of body fat just from a Thanksgiving meal – even if they eat a lot.
Holidays don’t have to derail our health goals. Step one is understanding what is really happening with our weight when we eat a large meal.
Overeating and Weight Gain
Chronic overeating is what leads to weight gain. We gain weight when we overeat again and again and again. A single large meal will not pack on extra pounds.
Let’s Do the Math
It takes roughly 3,500 excess calories for our body to put on one pound of body fat when we consistently overeat. And according to the Calorie Control Council, the typical American consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. How much body fat would we gain from eating that much?
First, subtract the calories our body normally needs (about 2,000 calories for a moderately active woman and 2,500 calories for a moderately active man). Using the average calories for women leaves us with 4,500 – 2,000 = 2,500 excess calories. But this is only about two-thirds of a pound of body fat – and nowhere near 5 pounds!
What would it actually take to gain five pounds? You’d have to eat 2,000 + (3,500 x 5) = 19,500 calories! I doubt you eat that much, even at Thanksgiving dinner.
Where does the extra weight come from?
Most of that so-called five-pound gain is water weight. Certain nutrients we eat (particularly carbohydrates, sodium, and alcohol) cause the body to retain water. And water is really heavy! So, if you eat a meal high in carbohydrates (mashed potatoes), sodium (stuffing), and alcohol (wine), you will certainly gain water weight.
Healthy eating is about moderation and balance – not about restriction. So my recommendation is: go ahead and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal. Just keep it to one day, and this won’t cause you to gain weight. The real weight gain only comes if Thanksgiving lasts an entire week (or until New Year’s).
And don’t step on a scale until a week after Thanksgiving. Go back to your regular eating routine and let your body get rid of that water weight. You’ll probably be right back at the same weight you were before Thanksgiving.
But if sticking to your healthy eating goals is still a struggle during the holidays, I’m here to help! Email me at email@example.com or visit our website to schedule a nutrition counseling session.