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How to have a guilt-free Thanksgiving

Most of us look forward to the end-of-the-year holidays with mixed feelings. On one hand, we enjoy the family reunions and the general feel-good social atmosphere that the season brings. On the other hand, there's all of the food. Parties, dinners, fudge, pies, etc. Many of us just give up and concede the regular five-pound weight gain as just another part of the yearly cycle.

As far as parties are concerned, the only way to avoid negative consequences is to watch your fat and alcohol intake, and not go to a party hungry. Eat your normal diet right up until the event, and then snack on the healthiest stuff available at the party. Don't make the mistake of "putting calories in the bank" by not eating all day, to make up for all of the bad stuff you plan to eat and drink at the party. It doesn't work.

The more you try to trick nature, the farther behind you get. The best plan is to stick with your regular diet and exercise plan, deviating from the plan when you choose, and then getting right back on it.

The biggest problem most people have during the holiday season is that it comes so close to New Year's Day, with its resolution midset. "I'll get back on the program after the first of the year.", is a common promise. The trap that this rationalization sets you up for is that you tend not to try at all during this difficult period. "I've already blown it now with this office party, I might as well enjoy myself until my New Year's resolution kicks in." You probably have told yourself some of these things.

A big sticking point for many people and their fitness regimen is the Thanksgiving dinner. You have to eat Aunt Mabel's cranberry stuffed marshmallow cream gravy, three helpings of your mother's best-in-the-universe-dressing, your mother-in-law's super concentrated giblet gravy over mashed potatoes with the skins on. And you will eat some of everything on the table, because you don't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

Later, you have turkey sandwiches, two slices of each kind of pie (with ice cream), cookies and candy, and you almost eat grandma's Carmen Miranda-esque hat by mistake. The next day it begins again, all the while you are saying to yourself, "Man, I hate myself, I'm such a pig. I've really got to get serious after New Year's."

Then come the Christmas parties. You give up on maintaining your weight and eat and drink everything in sight. "Hey, why fight it? I'll get back in shape after all of the temptation is gone."

If there were a pill that you could buy that allowed you to relax and eat everything you wanted to during Christmas and New Year's dinners, and gain no more than a pound or two, how much would you pay for it? $20? $50? $100?

What if I could explain to you that you can do it for free? Well, you can. If you get your mind set now that you will eat what you want during the dinners, and then get right back into your routine, it will happen. Now, there is some discipline involved. You do have to have a routine. You have to have a regular exercise program that you will continue through the holidays. And you have to stop eating holiday food except on the holiday.

An important concept you must grasp is this: Your body likes consistency. If you eat 2,500 kcal per day, it expects 2,500 kcal per day. If you eat less, it will make up the difference by drawing on stored energy and slowing down a bit. If you eat too much, it will store some of the excess as future energy.

This is where continuing your program during the holidays is important. If your body is accustomed to getting and using fuel every day, no one day is going to upset the balance much. If you undereat one day, the body compensates. If you overeat, you store a bit more fuel. (By the way, if you use a lot of carbohydrates during your exercise, your body will try to store excess consumed carbohydrates in the form of glycogen before it stores fat. If you train your body to use fat for fuel, by doing only low intensity exercise for long periods, and eating more fat, your body will try to convert excess carbs into body fat. Good reasons to eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates and to do higher intensity exercise.)

If you want to eat 6,000 kcal on Thanksgiving Day, your digestive system will process what it can, but it can't possibly deal with more than twice its normal volume. You don't have the digestive enzymes to process it, and your system's rate of motility (moving through the tract) will not allow for full absorption. if you don't keep eating leftovers the next few weeks, you won't miss a beat; well, after the first few hours of moaning and groaning from having a full belly.

If you get back on your horse the day after Thanksgiving, not only will your body feel better, but your guilty conscience won't get the best of you this year. And next march you'll already have a head start on all of the Aunt Mabel sweet potato eaters.

Well, there you have it. I hearby grant you license to eat whatever you want at your big holiday feasts. Guilt free. You're welcome.

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