How much weight can you gain over Thanksgiving?


Sticking to your best eating practices can be challenging around the holidays. It’s hard to say no to food around festive meals, even harder to exclude yourself when everyone’s joining in, and hosts appreciate guests that happily enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Should you just give up for a bit? How much harm could one Thanksgiving meal do?

The numbers are on your side

Let’s start with some comforting information. You can’t gain serious weight in one meal, no matter how hard you try.

To gain one pound you’d need to eat an excess of 3500 calories, so if your daily caloric intake is 2000 calories, you’d need to eat 5500 calories to gain one pound. Which is perhaps doable, but unless you’re in an eating contest, quite difficult. Even then, your body may not absorb the calorie attack, and this binge may be followed by a natural compensatory loss of appetite, or an automatic urge to move and exercise to burn some of it off. But even in the worst-case scenario, you can see that there’s only so much damage you can do in one meal.

Weight is usually gained over time. That’s why your habits and routines matter so much. Even if a festive meal breaks your calorie bank, your healthy habits will bring you back on track.

But are they, really?

Let’s not forget that Thanksgiving is just the beginning of a 6-week holiday season – marked by parties, special meals, high-caloric treats at every corner and more free time to enjoy all of these. People who say they gained 5-10 pounds over the holidays might be outliers, but the holiday season weight gain phenomenon is quite real.

A review in the journal Obesity included six studies in adults, and five of them showed significant weight gain over the holidays. One of the studies observed 195 adults over 6 weeks, from late November to mid-January, and showed that they gained an average of 0.8 pounds – which they did not lose in a one year follow up. In the 4 other studies weight gain was even greater: holiday season weight gain ranged from 1.2 to 2 pounds!

The review also looked at six studies of people trying to lose weight, and those didn’t fare any better: they gained on average 0.6 to 2 pounds. Even when the intent was to lose weight, the holiday season packed extra weight on.

Tips for the holiday season

Be merry: By all means, loosen up and enjoy yourself! Holidays are for appreciating good food with family and friends, and rules are meant to be broken. That being said, you don’t have to eat food just because it’s there. Your cousin baked an elaborate cake for Thanksgiving? Go for it! But you don’t have to try everything that ends up on the coffee break table in the month of December. Be a snob!

Tomorrow is another day: Overindulgence happens. That absolutely doesn’t mean you’re on a slippery slope or that you might as well just give up. As mentioned above, one day of gluttony can only do so much harm, guilt is futile, and you can surely get back on track.

Watch what you drink: Alcoholic and sweet drinks pack lots of calories, and tend to go uncounted and unnoticed. Space caloric drinks (wine, cocktails, beer) with water, sparkling water, or other non-caloric non-sweet drinks. Sugary drinks should be a rare special occasion treat.

Veggies and fruit to the rescue: Fill at least half your plate with veggies, these will load you with nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, help lower your caloric intake and benefit your health. When choosing deserts and snacks, look for delicious fruit – it's not that you should never eat cake, but your sweet tooth may be satisfied with dried or fresh fruit too.

Celebrations aren't only about eating: It’s not all about food. Go for a walk, play a board game, volunteer together, have a tea tasting afternoon – there are many non-caloric, even calorie-burning celebration activities to try together in between the feasts.

Happy holiday season,

Dr. Ayala

Ayala Laufer-CahanaComment