Can overeating on Thanksgiving affect your heart’s health?

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and for millions that means one thing: eating food, and LOTS of it.

From turkey with all the trimmings, to stuffing, green beans slathered in creamy soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, giant, buttery rolls, and a vast array of pie choices, Thanksgiving dinner is the day when copious amounts of food is consumed without much thought of health repercussions. 

In fact according to the Calorie Control Council, the average calories consumed during a typical Thanksgiving dinner alone can carry a load of 3,000 calories. This number, however does not take into account appetizers and drinks before and after, which realistically brings the count to more than 4,500 calories and about 229 grams of fat.

Where do those calories come from?

To help you better see where your calories are coming from, here is a chart from the Calorie Control Council. As you can see, appetizers alone have the potential to run you 633 calories before even sitting down to eat. 

What does that mean, and will it really affect my health?

So, it’s one meal. Big deal, right? Well, sure. Indulging once in awhile is probably OK. And because we have a cool thing in our brains called the hypothalamus that lets us know when we’re full to keep us from overeating to the point of say, gastrointestinal perforation, it is unlikely that eating too much will send you to the hospital.

Furthermore, if overeating isn’t a normal mealtime routine, the likelihood of consuming too much food at Thanksgiving is probably low, and the likelihood of it developing into a pattern is pretty low, too.  

However, if you do struggle with knowing when you’ve eaten too much food, or if overeating is a pattern that you have fallen into, doing so at Thanksgiving dinner may have negative repercussions particularly as it relates to your heart. 

A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that obese individuals showed significantly greater levels of high frequency heart rate variability (HF HRV) when presented with their preferred high-calorie food items than non-obese individuals. Obese individuals in the study showed an increased vagal activity which indicated that overeating has a negative effect on the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, particularly heart rate regulation.

What can you do to prevent from overeating on Thanksgiving?

In order to prevent overeating on Thanksgiving while still enjoying the holiday, here are a few tips:

1. Stay away from the appetizers

Nibbling food won’t get you full very fast, but the calories will add up quickly. This is why it is so important to do what you can to stay away from the cheese dip. To do this, simply move to the room where food is not. Better yet, ask the host or hostess what you can do to help. Perhaps you can set the table or move chairs or other furniture around. This will not only keep you away from the appetizers, but will get you burning calories before you’ve even added them to your count. 

2. Wear restrictive clothing 

You know that Friend’s episode where Joey wears Phoebe’s maternity pants to eat the turkey, and calls them his “Thanksgiving pants?” Yeah, don’t do that.

If you wear a belt, or even a tighter fitting dress or dress suit, you will have less room to comfortably expand, and therefore you will be less likely to overeat.

3. Savor the flavor

So, you remember that part of your brain that tells you when you’re full? Well, generally speaking, it takes about 20 minutes for that process to kick in. So, if you scarf all that food down in 10 minutes, you will just keep scarfing until your brain tells you it’s time to stop. And by that time, you will have overeaten.

So, slow down and take time to taste your food. Maybe even have a conversation with your crazy Aunt Jill (after you’ve swallowed, of course). This will both prevent overeating, but you may just find out that Aunt Jill isn’t all that crazy after all.

4. Eat your turkey first

As it turns out, there are certain foods that make you feel fuller faster. And according to research conducted by Zane Andrews — an associate professor of physiology and a neuroscientist at Monash University, that was published in the Huffington Post, found that foods high in protein will actually make you feel fuller faster.

So, don’t wait to eat that bird that your mom spent all day cooking. It may just help keep the rest of your meal in check.

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