I gobbled too much! How to recover after Thanksgiving

Eric Zelz
Posted Nov. 28, 2013, at 5:39 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 28, 2013, at 6:57 p.m.

You heard all the tips about how to enjoy a healthy Thanksgiving. Keep portions in check. Load up on veggies. Avoid the shame of the midnight pie run, with its rushed devouring of yet another slice in the unflinching glow of an open refrigerator.

But you blew it anyway. Now you’re in the post-Thanksgiving recovery phase. Maybe you’re also kicking off Hanukkah festivities and wondering how you’ll resist all those delicious fried treats.

Here’s your guide to assessing the damage, managing the guilt, and getting back on track. From the “stepmother slice” of pie to the wisdom of Evander Holyfield, we’ve got you covered.

How bad is one blowout day of overeating?

One huge, calorie-packed meal won’t do you in nutritionally, as long as you return to healthy habits quickly, according to University of Maine food scientist Mary Ellen Camire.

“The big thing is to start counteracting what you’ve taken in and to get exercise,” she said.

Regular overeating can stretch the stomach, requiring you to eat more to feel full, but the damage from one big meal is minimal, she said. (Though consuming a large meal has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack). And you might put on a little weight.

“To put on a pound of fat, you have to eat 3,500 extra calories, which is quite possible to do on Thanksgiving,” Camire said.

With Thanksgiving falling so late this year, we have precious few days to recover before holiday parties kick into high gear.

“If you start hitting the party circuit you’re ingesting more calories,” Camire said. “Most people end up gaining at least a pound in that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

How guilty do I have to feel?

Don’t beat yourself up about dropping the nutritional ball for one day, said Jackie Conn, general manager of Weight Watchers in Maine. If you obsess about trying to make up for the mistakes of Thanksgiving, you’ll just feel overwhelmed, she said.

Some people misguidedly starve themselves for a week after the holiday, Conn said. That’s like hitting a sandy shoulder while driving your car and overcorrecting — you’ll wind up with a wreck, she said.

“What really affects your weight is your everyday habits,” she said.

Conn also advises following the words of none other than Evander Holyfield, the former undisputed world champion boxer.

“He says not to focus on the hits,” Conn said. In other words, instead of ruminating about downing three eggnogs, focus on your decision to decline a fourth. Maybe you don’t deserve a medal, but staying positive will put you in a frame of mind to succeed.

Also try to resist the, “Well, I went on a stuffing bender so I might as well gobble everything in sight until New Year’s” trap.

“It’s one day, lapses happen,” said Joan Lavery-McLaughlin, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at The Wellness Solution in Falmouth. “Don’t let it be the springboard to derailing you for the whole holidays.”

What can I do to get back on my food game?

Watch yourself during that other game — football.

“You sit in front of the TV and you eat and you drink,” Camire said.

Instead, put out small bites to nibble on rather than big bowls of chips and cheese puffs, she said.

Or play a game of pigskin outside instead of watching the pros on the tube, Conn said.

Just get active. Camire suggests Bangor-area folks walk around to local shops on Plaid Friday, the downtown’s answer to the madness of big-box shopping on Black Friday.

“You’re getting your exercise and you’re helping local businesses as the same time,” she said.

If you decide to hit the mall, park as far away as you can to get in some walking, Lavery-McLaughlin said.

As for those leftovers whispering sweet nothings from the fridge, foist some off on your loved ones.

“Send everyone home with a plate,” Lavery-McLaughlin said. Use whole-grain bread for your turkey sandwich and swap out the mayo or butter for cranberry sauce, Camire suggests. Try eating off a salad plate rather than a dinner plate, which can trick your brain into thinking you’re digging into a larger portion, according to research performed at Cornell University.

Some other tips:

• Consider the tradition of the “stepmother slice,” also known as the “mother-in-law slice.” Serve up skinny slices of a few types of pie, so you can enjoy the variety without the calories of several full-size slices. “No denigration to stepmothers,” said Camire. Or mothers-in-law. Not all of them are stingy.

• “Make sure you eat something for breakfast, so you’re not tempted at 11 o’clock to dive into the pie leftovers,” Camire said. Aim for a meal with protein and fiber to keep you satisfied. Believe it or not, pumpkin pie packs a decent amount of protein and vitamins, she said. “There are worse things to eat for breakfast than a slice of pumpkin pie.”

• Pack a snack. Clementines are easy to toss in your pocket or purse and peel when you’re ravenous and away from home, Camire said. Or keep an apple handy, suggests Lavery-McLaughlin, and eat a healthy snack before hitting up holiday parties.

• Stay hydrated. Your body may mistake thirst for hunger, Lavery-McLaughlin said. Avoid drinking your calories, especially from alcohol, which can lower your inhibitions and lead to more overeating, Camire said. Try seltzer instead.

• “No mumus,” Camire says. As much as you’ll want to wear loose-fitting clothing after a day of overeating, those elastic-waist pants will just make it easier to overdo it all over again.

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