Overstuffed on Thanksgiving
Can eating more than 3,000 calories in one meal harm your body?
Juliette Allen Published: November 26, 2019
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Americans fill their pantries with fixings to make stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce while bathing turkeys in brine in preparation for the big meal. You know what’s not so appetizing? Thinking about how many calories we’ll eat at this annual festival of food.
Chew on this
According to Consumer Reports, Americans will eat anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner alone.
“As a physician, in particular one who sees and treats obesity on a daily basis, I wish this weren’t the case, but it's not surprising to me,” said Tristan Imhof, MD, a family medicine physician with Baptist Primary Care. “It's no secret that obesity continues to have a grasp on this nation and is responsible for a host of preventable diseases, from high blood pressure to heart disease to diabetes.”
Like most of us, Dr. Imhof admits to indulging annually on Thanksgiving. However, he says it’s vital to stay mindful of the quantity and quality of food he eats to minimize the impact on his body. The issue isn’t just about eating thousands of calories in one sitting, Dr. Imhof said. It’s when overeating becomes a habit.
“It points to a larger problem of obesity as those who don't exercise restraint at the Thanksgiving table may be unlikely to exercise restraint elsewhere,” Dr. Imhof said. “The problem starts when one sitting becomes five sittings, which becomes once a week and then becomes the norm.”
Be thankful for your health
The body isn’t designed to take in so many high-calorie, high-fat foods at one time. Dr. Imhof warns that changes to the body take place when someone overindulges in meals typical of Thanksgiving that could trigger life-threatening conditions in people who have already existing health conditions, many times caused by years of poor eating habits.
“It’s not uncommon after someone eats this type of meal that we see increases in blood pressure, edema or swelling, and high blood sugar, all of which, when left uncontrolled, can trigger a life-threatening event like a heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Imhof said.
The worst offenders
According to The Healthy, a wellness website from the publishers of Reader’s Digest, these holiday foods are the worst for your health:
- Apple pie - This holiday favorite typically has a buttery crust and sugary fillings. According to The Healthy, one slice of apple pie has more calories than a plate of turkey breast with gravy, buttery corn on the cob and a glass of red wine! If you plan to have a slice of pie and want to cut back on calories, make some healthier swaps earlier in the meal. For example, trade your mashed potatoes for spinach.
- Stuffing - Many agree this is the star of the side dishes. What makes it so good? Well, it’s essentially just bread, butter and sometimes sausage. That means it’s high in calories and fat. The good news? Cooking your stuffing outside the turkey can cut down on calories (and it’s safer), and adding vegetables like mushrooms, onions and celery will boost your fiber intake.
- Mashed potatoes - The problem here isn’t so much the potatoes themselves, but everything that gets mashed in with them. Many recipes call for whole milk, butter and even cheese and bacon. To reduce calories and fat, just use milk.
Food for thought
None of this means that you should clear out those pantries or start a new tradition of “Thanksgiving salad.” All it means, Dr. Imhof said, is to be mindful of what you’re eating and make sure it doesn’t become a regular pattern.
“It's acceptable to enjoy some of the things you don't typically have on a daily basis, but still do so in a responsible manner,” he said. “Pay attention to quantity and don't eat to a point of discomfort. When your body gives you the signal that it's time to stop, don't continue to eat until you’re uncomfortable. Those body cues exist for a reason and should be acknowledged.”
A Baptist Primary Care physician can guide you to make better decisions for your overall health while providing routine tests and screenings to make sure you’re the healthiest version of yourself possible. To find the right physician for you, call 904.202.4YOU.