In just a couple of days, families all over America will be sitting down to a meal with family and friends.

The year was 1621. The scene was a gathering of Pilgrims brought together to commemorate a bountiful harvest after a harsh winter. Simply having enough food to put on the table was enough reason to celebrate and be thankful.

George Washington declared Thanksgiving a holiday in 1789, it has been celebrated as a Federal holiday since 1863, and in 1941, Congress passed a resolution stating that the holiday always fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

Whether we use the year 1621, 1789, or 1863, feasting together is about as old as the human race. It is a way to bring people together, to slow down a bit from the daily “to-do’s”, and enjoy some quality time with family and friends. The occasional feast is also the time when you should allow yourself to live a little.

So this year as you gather around the table to give thanks, celebrate, and enjoy good company, feel free to live a little with your diet, just remember to key one eye on the calorie meter.

How big is the average Thanksgiving dinner?

It’s hard to believe, but it is estimated that the average Thanksgiving meal contains more than 3,000 calories, including 229 grams of fat. And that is just a typical dinner. It does not take into account the pre-dinner snacking that goes on most of the afternoon leading up to the main event.

A 160 lb. person would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles to burn off a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving Day meal,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, ACE chief exercise physiologist. Many people start by snacking throughout the day and that combined with the meal can lead to a total caloric intake of 4,500.”1

The good news is that I am not asking you to forego your favorite holiday foods. There is, and should be, room for a little indulgence at the occasional holiday feast! The secret is to have a plan as you head into the first big holiday of the season. By staying on top of both your calorie intake and your physical activity, you can enjoy your favorite foods and emerge on the other side, hopefully not feeling guilty.

Here’s how you will accomplish that:

  • Plan your meals. If you know that you are going to be having some heavy, celebratory meals in the upcoming days, reduce your intake with other meals to “bank” some calories for the big meal. Do not skip meals, but rather make them lighter and be sure to include plenty of healthy, lower calorie foods. For instance, if you know your Thanksgiving dinner is at 4pm, eat a smaller breakfast and a light lunch.
  • Look at the bigger picture. Keep up with how you are eating during the several days surrounding Thanksgiving. You know you are going to load up some calories on Thursday, but if you do that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as well, well then you might be setting yourself up to back-peddle on your health and fitness goals. In fact, if done well, a strategic over-eating day may actually boost your metabolism and help with fat loss. Non-strategic over-eating for several days will not.
  • Keep moving. Stay active everyday to boost your metabolism. A single bout of moderately intense activity earlier in the day will help your body better manage the extra calories you will be consuming later in the day. Get out for a walk or hike with the family, or do a circuit of body weight exercises at home. Just because the gym is closed doesn’t mean you can’t get a workout in.

To get the biggest bang for your exercise time, a circuit of body weight exercises using as many large muscle groups as possible will increase your metabolic rate the most:

Push-ups –
If you aren’t used to doing push-ups, start with your hands on a raised surface such as a desk or against a wall. As you gain strength, you can progress to a standard push-up on the floor.

Lunges – For extra credit, hold dumbbells or other heavy objects in your hands while lunging.

Squats – To do a proper squat, lower yourself just as though you are about to sit into a chair, then raise back up.

Step-ups – Find the nearest step and with alternating legs, step onto the step with one leg then lower yourself back down. Again, holding heavy objects in each hand will increase the intensity.

Incorporate some cardiovascular intervals – such as walking up hill or brisk stair walking – to increase your overall calorie burn both during the workout, and more importantly, long after. This is called the after-burn effect, and will allow you better handle the extra calories that will likely show up on your plate later.

So this thursday, if you haven’t already, start a new, active approach to commemorating the holiday.

Live a little, enjoy the company of your friends and family, and have a great Thanksgiving.




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