Special Report

The Biggest Health Mistakes People Make on Thanksgiving

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A typical Thanksgiving dinner can amount to 3,000 calories. Appetizers and drinks before, during, and after the meal can add another 1,500, bringing the total to a whopping 4,500 calories in just a few hours. This is about twice the amount a person should consume in a day.

Yes, Thanksgiving is about family and food, but some people drink a lot, too. The combination of too many liquid and food calories can lead to drowsiness, upset stomachs, and headaches the next morning from both the alcohol and the high sugar foods, according to Alyson Pidich, medical director of the Ash Center, a longevity and anti-aging clinic in New York City.

To determine the biggest and most common health mistakes people make on Thanksgiving, 24/7 Wall St. asked several doctors, nutritionists, and dietitians to share their observations and tips.

That said, the experts are not perfect themselves. They, too, make some of the same mistakes everyone else does. “I live 12 hours away from my family, so when I do get to go home for a holiday I tend to feel like I need to ‘stock up’ as I won’t have the foods prepared by my family for quite some time,” admits Kayla Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Nutrition Rites, a nutrition counseling center.

One day of overeating will not wreak havoc on your body, but Thanksgiving is a slippery slope. It’s a long-weekend holiday that marks the start of a long holiday season — and four days of delicious leftovers that can be made into sandwiches, burgers and casseroles can lead to a trend of overeating, unless you avoid certain mistakes.

Click here to read about the biggest health mistakes you shouldn’t make over Thanksgiving.

1. Saving room for dinner

“A lot of people starve themselves to have room for later,” Pidich said. The stretching of your stomach and ghrelin, also known as the “hunger” hormone, are what tell you to stop. The problem is that the hormone level rises as you starve, and takes longer to go down as you start eating, she added. “The shutoff switch is disturbed and you end up overeating.” This is similar to what happens when you’re dieting — ghrelin production increases, potentially causing people to eat more and gain weight, according to research.

Eat some healthy fats for lunch, three to four hours before dinner, suggests Dr. Daryl Gioffre, a New York City nutritionist and author of “Get Off Your Acid.” “They are filling, you won’t be too hungry later and end up eating everything but the kitchen sink.”

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2. Sitting on the couch after dinner

Your posture affects how your body digests all the food you are consuming. Research shows that the best position to avoid discomfort is standing. Lying down significantly slows gastric emptying compared to other positions such as sitting, standing, or a combination of sitting and standing. A separate study found that food takes about 20 minutes longer to leave the stomach if you’re sitting.

3. Thinking you’ll only eat turkey and stuffing now

Don’t feel like you can only have these foods on this one day, Fitzgerald says. “If you don’t think you’re going to get a chance to eat these foods for another year, it can be easy to ‘stock up’ and eat much more than you need or even want.” It’s true that Americans don’t eat turkey as often as they do beef, pork or chicken, but the typical Thanksgiving sides, such as mashed potatoes, gravy, casserole, and corn are popular year-round.

4. Being in a hurry to prepare the meal

Being in a hurry to prepare the meal and visit with family is a common mistake Edna Cox, a registered nutritionist at Carolina Nutrition Consultants, admits to making on Thanksgiving. It’s a mistake because it leaves no time for exercising. Working out should be part of your holiday “recovery.” You have to keep the body in motion to keep the metabolism going, Gioffre added.

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5. Skipping the vegetables

Consuming vegetables is crucial because they are low in calories and have a lot vitamins and minerals. The fiber and water in them fill you up more efficiently than processed carbs in bread and mashed potatoes. A spoonful of mashed potatoes may be between 50 and 100 calories, while a spoonful of Brussel sprouts is just five, Pidich said. “You eat the same size food but [fewer] calories.” If you want to eat but not gain weight, you need to consume low-energy-dense foods — a big volume of food with a low amount of calories. This way you feel fuller on just a few calories.

Also, minerals slow down sugar absorption so insulin doesn’t go into hyperproduction, Gioffre said. High levels of insulin can lead to intense hunger, sugar cravings, brain fog, and fatigue.

6. Eating too much meat

“Protein should be the side show, not the main event,” Gioffre said. Ham and turkey, the traditional meat on Thanksgiving, are very acidic, he added. (Meat may test alkaline before digestion but it leaves very acidic residue in the body.) Acidic foods can irritate the stomach lining, causing indigestion and other digestive problems.

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7. Forgetting to chew

You have to get back to basics, Gioffre said. “Eat slower and chew the food.” If you don’t it can lead to pain and bloating because big pieces of food are sitting undigested in your stomach, rotting, he added. “The brain takes 15 minutes to catch up to the gut.” So give it time to realize it can’t handle more food without causing problems.

8. Overeating appetizers

This huge health mistakes comes from starving yourself during the day. The easy way to avoid it is by eating a breakfast that is rich in protein — so not a bagel, Pidich said.

Survey the appetizer table or buffet – and load up on veggies, Cox added. Go easy on the cheese and crackers. Go for lean protein choices like shrimp, and skip the fried appetizers. “Once you’ve filled your plate, mingle, enjoy friends and family, don’t hang by the appetizer table.” And don’t go back for seconds.

9. Combining the wrong foods

Protein (turkey) and starch (mashed potatoes) is one of the worst food combinations, Gioffre said. “Protein is acid-forming and starch is alkaline, so the two cancel each other out.” (Think of it as if the digestive system is pulled in opposite directions at the same time.) The result is food ending up rotting in your stomach, Gioffre said. Have the turkey with vegetables instead.

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10. Choosing unhealthy versions of favorite dishes

Vegetables should dominate your plate if you want to avoid the negative effects of Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t have to eat salads all night, but you can prepare healthier versions of traditional dishes. For example, Gioffre said, make sweet potato casserole and mashed cauliflower instead of the potato kind.

11. Splurging on everything

If you’re going to splurge on anything, go for a “rainbow” plate. “The more colorful the food is, the better because it has more vitamins and minerals,” Pidich said. You’ll be doing your body a favor by giving it the necessary ingredients to avoid a food hangover the next day.

Be mindful and plan ahead, Cox said. “What foods mean Thanksgiving to you – do you love your grandmother’s pumpkin pie or your mom’s dressing?” Plan to indulge on one or two favorites and eat smaller portions of the other yummy sides and desserts, she added.

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12. Drinking too much

“The norm is the more you drink the more you eat,” Cox said. “After one or two alcoholic beverages, you don’t have the same sense of self-control and tend to overeat while you are still drinking.”

The body metabolizes alcohol before food because it is a toxin and the body wants to get rid of it, Fitzgerald added. “When this happens, fat oxidation stops and the metabolism of everything we’re eating slows down, which can contribute to weight gain over time.”

13. Feasting after the holiday is over

A common mistake Cox sees people make is thinking they’re going to overindulge because of the holidays, which results in continuing with the feasting after Thanksgiving. They assume they’re not going to lose weight over Thanksgiving, when they should be thinking: “Let’s maintain our current weight so January 1 is not so discouraging,'” she added.

14. Disregarding portion size

Use smaller dishes if you have to because this will force you to eat smaller portions, Gioffre said. Foods that are “dressed as smaller sides” can help decrease intake of fat, sugar, and calories, Cox added.

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15. Filling up on sugar

“Fill up on the protein (turkey) and veggies even if they are made with a lot of fat and salt,” Fitzgerald said. The protein and fiber will help to keep you full while providing many vitamins and minerals, she added.

16. Wearing baggy pants

Ditch the comfortable clothes and baggy pants, Cox said. “Loose-fitting clothes make it easier to overeat.” Wear an outfit that is tighter because it helps to remind you when you start overeating and feeling full, she added.

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