News, Culture & Society

Stop panicking about indulgence on Thanksgiving

There is no shortage of ‘health tips’ to beat Thanksgiving weight gain, from low-calorie recipes to portion control tactics to pre-dinner workouts.

True, the last Thursday of November marks the start of ‘gorging season’ in the US, and the annual spike in weight gain.

But some nutritionists insist this panic over one day of indulgence is ‘stupid’, causing undue stress – when it is almost impossible to gain much weight from one meal. 

They also warn this panic can send people into dangerous and unnecessary ‘cleanses’ in the days afterwards, when really we should simply return to our normal habits and let our metabolism do the work.  

Aaron E Carroll, a nutritionist and physician at Indiana University, and Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at Ohio State University, explain why there is no point restricting yourself from indulgence on Thanksgiving


‘This whole healthy Thanksgiving is a very, very bad idea. One day won’t affect you at all,’ Dr Aaron E Carroll, physician and nutritionist at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, insists.

‘That’s why it’s a holiday, it’s a day to relax, to enjoy yourself. Food is something to enjoy, not to worry about.

‘You have 364 other days in the year to follow a normal eating pattern. One day will not kill you.’ 

Asked what health tips he would offer, Dr Carroll paused.

‘Well… don’t make yourself sick by drinking or eating too much. Aside from that, no – do what you want. I’m going to have more pie than I would on a normal day, but that’s fine, it’s a holiday.’

Liz Weinandy, RD, a nutritionist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, agrees. 

‘Panicking about food can create an all-or-nothing mentality. Some people panic and detox afterwards, and some people say “well I’ve ruined it now”, then overeat until January 1,’ she explains. 

‘I always say just let yourself have this day, enjoy it, eat what you want, then get back to your normal healthy lifestyle after.’  


Worst-case scenario, you eat more than planned. 

What happens?

Not much, Carroll and Weinandy explain.

Carroll says: ‘Think about it: there is no way you can lose a huge amount of weight in one day. So put it the other way: you can’t gain much weight in one day.

‘Also, even if you gained a pound… so what? It’s one pound. You have an entire year to burn off that one pound. It is not the end of the world.’ 

In fact, eating enough to even gain one pound would be a stretch. 

‘I think a lot of people panic, getting on the scales the day after and seeing it go up five pounds. That will all be water weight from eating a lot of sodium, and it would go down in day,’ Weinandy explains.

‘To gain a pound in fat, you would need to eat 3,500 extra calories

‘So if you’re a woman who eats 2,000 calories a day, that would mean eating 5,500 calories at Thanksgiving.

‘First of all, that would be so hard. So so hard. You would have to be stuffing yourself literally all day until you feel sick. 

‘Second, one pound is not something to worry about.’  


Amidst all the hype over ways to control our health, some of us may forget that our metabolism does work, and crash diets like juice cleanses derail our body’s natural ability to digest food. 

‘Let your body get back to normal naturally. Your metabolism will work,’ Dr Carroll insists. 

‘Don’t try any restrictive cleanses or detoxes, you don’t need to. Very often, restrictive diets are lacking nutrients or have more calories from sugar to make up for no gluten. 

‘The best diet is sustainable, healthy eating patterns. Eat as normal, and you will be fine.’

Weinandy says, aside from drinking plenty of water during Thanksgiving, you should not make any restrictive rules for yourself on the day or after. 

Perhaps you could go for a walk on the day, she says, or eat a protein-packed breakfast to fill you up in the morning. But if you don’t, don’t worry.  

‘In general, I want people to realize that it is OK not to be perfect. Learn to be happy with what you did do, not worrying about what you didn’t,’ she says. 

‘Maybe you didn’t follow your diet 100 percent, but you ate some vegetables and drank water, and tomorrow you’re going to get back to your normal eating and exercise routine. That’s fine. It’s only when you start worrying about it that there could be some issues, because it could send you into a spiral.’