The Internet is lousy with Thanksgiving buzzkills, trying to make you feel guilty about indulging before you’ve so much as stuffed your mouth with a single candied yam. Even the most cursory Google search unearths a trove of articles advising how to cut back calories on Thanksgiving Day.
Eat a protein-rich breakfast so you’re less hungry for the main event. Load up on greens. When eating turkey, skip the skin. Skimp on starches. Mash some cauliflower instead of potatoes. Drink water, water and more water.
Balderdash. To hell with portion sizes. Goodbye carb counting. This year we sing the praises of gluttony.
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Obviously, if you’re on a restricted diet for health reasons, you should follow doctor’s orders, even on this most indulgent of days (sorry, safety first). But if you’re an otherwise healthy adult who’s been conditioned to fret over and micromanage food intake, if you find yourself searching for pie fillings high in fiber, whole-grain stuffing and cranberry relish made with sugar substitutes, stop.
Moderation is a virtue, but joylessness isn’t. Gain the extra pound.
According to health.gov, the average adult woman should consume 1,600-2,400 calories per day, and the average adult man 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. The exact number varies depending on age, height, weight and physical activity. Your doctor can help you figure out your ideal number, and certain fitness and nutrition apps, like MyFitnessPal and Fooducate, can help keep you on track.
That is, on every day but Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, you’re going to indulge, and you’re not going to feel bad about it. Consider this a permission slip.
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But if you need hard facts, here are the numbers. The typical Thanksgiving meal takes those daily recommendations, deep fries them and drowns them in gravy. According to the Calorie Control Council, the typical American consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day.
That sounds really bad, but let’s put it in perspective. To gain one pound of body fat in a day, you need to consume 3,500 extra calories – that’s on top of your daily caloric allotment. So, say you’re allowed 2,000 calories a day, the typically cited average. You would have to eat 5,500 calories in a day to gain a single pound.
According to the nutrition tracker at nutritionix.com, a buttery dinner roll will run you about 120 calories. Candied yams, about 300. That delectable slice of fresh-baked pumpkin pie is 320.
If you go all in on everything – the rolls, the pie, the green bean casserole, even a glass of wine or two – here’s the worst-case scenario: You gain a pound. If you’re aspirational, maybe you gain two.
Need some inspiration? There are hundreds of mouthwatering recipes at thanksgiving.com, including a guide to the fattest, cheesiest Thanksgiving food menu ever. You only live once, right?
If you exercise before the main event – say, go for a hike or participate in a turkey trot – do so not to negate the caloric intake of a single buttered dinner roll, but to free up space for five more. Move your body not to dodge guilt, but to put yourself in the proper headspace of deserving more. Give thanks to the invention of elastic and wear stretchy pants. If Thanksgiving is at your house and you don’t have any in-laws to impress, throw a pajama party so you can make the transition to turkey coma with greater ease. Really lean into the gluttony.
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Because here’s the thing: Food is one of the ways human beings show love. All those long hours in the kitchen spent elbow deep in raw poultry, forearms singed on scalding oven racks, are expressions of love. All those sticks of butter, tablespoons of bacon fat and heaping cups of sugar are oftentimes the result of recipes calibrated over many years, maybe even generations, to maximize flavor and nourish loved ones.
For many families, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to express love through cooking, which makes Thanksgiving dinner even more sacrosanct. Because however many dinners are hurriedly eaten over the sink throughout the year, however many energy bars gobbled to and from the gym, however many kale salads dutifully choked down, there’s always Thanksgiving, the best of all holidays to bring us together. The more helpings you eat, the more time you get to spend at the table with your friends and family.
Breaking bread with your loved ones – hot, buttery, crumbly bread – on Thanksgiving is too precious and rare a ritual to ruin with calorie counting. Going for seconds, even thirds, isn’t you being a pig. It’s saying I love you.
The USA TODAY NETWORK and Thanksgiving.com, America’s home for the holidays, are here to help you make those special times of year with family and friends even brighter. Whether you’re looking for recipes, how-to food videos, seasonal decor ideas, or delicious new desserts, we’ve got you covered. Thanksgiving.com is produced by USA TODAY Network newsrooms and Grateful Ventures, a part of the Network.