I have a problem with the way we celebrate Thanksgiving. Well, it’s not really how Thanksgiving is celebrated as much as how people judge eating habits.
People need to stop freaking out about one day where diet rules seem to no longer exist.
Every year, you’ll see people (full disclosure: it’s usually fitness or nutrition pros) recommending complete withdrawal of your favorite foods, or showing you how many minutes of exercise you need to complete in order to burn off your 3 servings of pumpkin pie.
The holiday isn’t prep for a bodybuilding competition. It’s a day designed to be with family, relax, express thanks, give back to those that have less, and — if you want to — eat a few more calories than you normally do.
People will say we should not use food as a reward. That makes sense.
But, that’s not what this is. Sometimes, food is part of culture and tradition. This is not a bad thing.
Want to know what’s really wrong?
Trying to convince people that overeating too many calories for one day will make a difference. It doesn’t.
What happens when you overeat? (The Surprising Science of Fat Gain)
You’ll see plenty of stats about how the average American will gain anywhere between 5 and 10 pounds between now and the end of the year on diet plans that lose all focus.
Guess what? That weight gain does not occur in a day or two.
Here’s the truth: if you were to overeat by 1,000 to 2,000 calories in one meal, you will not gain any fat. Even if you extend that to 3,000 calories, you’re not going to add any real fat to your body.
You might feel bloated. You might be holding water. But, that will regulate. Science shows that one bad meal does not cause fat gain. It doesn’t happen in a 24-hour cycle.
That’s the same flawed mentality that drives so many diet books to pinpoint one factor that causes weight gain or sparks weight loss.
Go ahead and eat to your heart’s content on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
If you still are stressed, turn your concerns into a math problem for stress relief (and some dietary sanity).
To gain weight, you need to eat roughly eat 3,500 more calories than you typically consume. (It’s probably even more than that. And yes, the old 3,500 calories equals a pound isn’t exactly accurate, but this example still proves a powerful point.)
So, let’s say you normally eat 2,000 calories per day. If you wanted to make any real damage to the scale, you’d probably need to consume at least 6,000 calories in a day.
That is a ton of calories. Even most surveys suggest that American’s only hit about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving.
Many factors can cause weight gain. One bad day of eating — especially on a holiday — is not one of those causes.
Need more proof? Take the logic of one gluttonous day of eating and apply it to exercise.
Imagine if you spent one entire day exercising, burning calories, and being the human version of the Energizer Bunny (you keep going… and going… and going). And then the rest of the week (or month) you did nothing.
Would you really expect to be healthy, fit, and look incredible?
Of course not. That one day of massive calorie burn would not offset the energy imbalance created by the rest of the time.
With weight loss and gain, you have to see the bigger picture and understand that nothing occurs in a vacuum. You don’t gain muscle off of one set of curls; it’s the accumulation of volume and stress over time. And you don’t add fat from the infrequent binge, no matter how ridiculous the meal could become.
Is this a license to throw all caution to the wind, eat everything you want, and give the middle finger to a healthy diet? Of course not.
You should still eat with comfort and enjoyment in mind. If you’re doing anything to the point that you don’t feel good, then you’re probably pushing a little too aggressively.
Or, if you know from past experiences that one big indulgence leads to a month of bad habits, then it’s your job to put some restrictions on how much you eat to prevent the single day of enjoyment from turning into a longer period of time.
What To Do After You Overeat
When you have an “off” day and eat too much, you don’t need to do anything special. You simply need to return to better, normal eating habits.
Restriction and living in fear is not needed. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and sometimes that means eating foods that aren’t healthy, not punishing yourself for those behaviors, and acting like that these diet breaks are allowed (because they are).
Every day isn’t a party or a holiday. And you shouldn’t eat like it. But, when those days occur, food stress shouldn’t factor into the equation.
It might not seem healthy, but adding in a few days where you don’t have rules into the mix of many days when you have boundaries is a fair, reasonable trade.
It’s sustainable and will lead to better results. Because any diet that includes food you can enjoy with foods you know are good for you, is likely to be followed for a longer period of time, and that’s when you see the biggest transformations.
It might not sound exciting, but better health, less stress, and more good holiday. memories is something we can all celebrate.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.