Thanksgiving the Leanness Lifestyle Way

by David Greenwalt

Thanksgiving History

In 1621, after a hard and devastating first year in the New World the Pilgrim’s fall harvest was very successful and plentiful. There was corn, fruits, vegetables, along with fish which was packed in salt, and meat that was smoke cured over fires. They found they had enough food to put away for the winter.

The Pilgrims had beaten the odds. They built homes in the wilderness, they raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, and they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. Their Governor, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving that was to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native American Indians.

The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770’s) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress.

In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

The Stress of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving causes many well-intentioned dieters, not true, seasoned Lifestylers, a great deal of stress. In my opinion the worry exceeds the benefits of worrying. Here’s how I view Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that can help us reflect on what we’re thankful for. It also provides some of us an opportunity rather than a cross to bear with respect to meeting up with family. Whatever Thanksgiving means to you the one thing it does for too many is kick off the treacherous Thanksgiving through January 15th weight-gain phase. The average overweight person puts on 5-7 pounds between Thanksgiving and mid-January. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Some reports indicate the average American will eat 3,000 calories at the Thanksgiving dinner and another 1,500 calories throughout the day for a total of 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving day. The day after Thanksgiving may also bring some additional eating for a total of 3,500 calories.

Throughout the year I will eat about 1,460 meals. Over Thanksgiving and the day after I will eat 6-10 times. This is one-half of one-percent of all of my eating for a year. That’s not very much.

So what can we do with this reality?

The average man who’s cutting fat will be eating about 1,600 calories a day to lose weight and the average woman will be eating about 1,200 calories a day during weight-loss.

If you’ve been consistently cutting fat and the scale numbers have been dropping then you absolutely can expect a scale pop the day after your Thanksgiving meal and perhaps again the day after that as well. It depends on when you shut off the indulging.

It takes an additional 3500 calories above what you burn in a day to gain a pound of fat. So, for some, there WILL be an EXTRA 3500 calories consumed above what is needed to maintain weight. So, at worst, this may mean one pound of extra fat put back on the body. However, it’s common to see 3-4 pounds on the scale the day after Thanksgiving. Why?

The scale will pop the day after Thanksgiving due primarily to increases in water-retention due to relative increases in carbohydrate and sodium consumption compared to what you were eating while enjoying fat-loss and scale-drops. Eighty to ninety-percent of the increase you see on the scale in the day or two following Thanksgiving is absolutely related to water-retention. If you gain four pounds then three of the four are directly related to water-retention and not fat gain.

Watch your language when you step on the scale. You haven’t “blown it.” You haven’t “ruined everything.” You, as part of your Lifestyle success plan, indulged for Thanksgiving and you enjoyed some amazing-tasting food that you almost never have any other time of year. You haven’t screwed anything up since it was part of your plan. That is, you haven’t screwed anything up if you STOP indulging after Thanksgiving day or, at the latest, the day after.

If you follow the suggestions I give that follow you’ll have the extra fat off and all of the water-bloat within 5-7 days. I know you’d like it all gone in 24 hours OR LESS but I’m a fan of science and being realistic so expect 5-7 to get back to status quo.

Thanksgiving Day Isn’t The Problem

A problem many people have is they don’t stop the day after Thanksgiving. They keep it going, as I said before, through mid-January or for many months or even years thereafter.

Thanksgiving is a time when the cooks of a family really get to show off how their skills. It’s the day when most families, when schedules will permit, go all out cooking foods you never get at any other time of the year. It’s the day when cooking goes on for hours and hours and hours to get it just right. You have plenty of fingers on one hand to count the other occasions in a year when this might take place. I’m not about to short-change myself by giving up some sensible indulgence of these wonderful-tasting foods just so I can be a picture-perfect dieter and not gain a few pounds of mostly water weight. No thank you. On every Thanksgiving since I’ve been alive I have some of anything I want. I don’t go home feeling deprived. By not going home feeling deprived I don’t send out pity-party invitations.

I talk about pity-party invitations in “Leanness Lifestyle V.4.” This usually occurs when an internal mechanism inside you says you’ve been better than you should have been. You may be wonderful for a few hours but what happens is the pity-party invitations will have been sent shortly after you said “No thank you” for the fifth time and right about the time you chomped on your fourth piece of broccoli sans any dressing or sauce. When you send out the pity-party invites who shows up is quite ugly. Mr. Binge, Ms. Secret Eating, Mrs. Fields and more may arrive. The total caloric surplus may end up being much worse than if you had simply eaten a little more at Thanksgiving and NOT gone home feeling too perfect. This is important. You have to be aware of your internal switch that thinks you’ve been too good. When that switch is turned on it gets ugly–it just gets ugly.

With this said there is no reason for you to eat what you DON’T want. I am not a believer that because Aunt Matilda is trying to forcefeed you pumpkin pie that you should cave in and eat if you don’t like it. Eat what you want that you know isn’t a trigger. If you’re a food addict then abstinence is still the rule. Addiction doesn’t take days off and one bite of a trigger could set you off for weeks, months or years. If you are really unsure if it’s a trigger then you may just have to try it and find out. But be honest with yourself and do your best. Go in with an indulgence plan and do your best to stick to it.

If you mess up? Call Dr. F:


  1. Do no further harm.
  2. Recover quickly.
  3. Fail forward.

To do “no further harm” means to not make the mistake in eating worse by taking on an “I’ve blown it now I may as well…” as you continue to overindulge or binge. The “do no further harm” ties in directly to recover quickly but it reminds us to stop the damage and not make a bad situation worse. To recover quickly means you do the steps I lay out below. By failing forward you are recognizing the event as the failure and not you as the person. You’re also looking for what you can learn from the event.

With all the normal Thanksgiving foods it could be really hard to figure out what’s a trigger and what isn’t. Skip the foods you KNOW are triggers. Have what you want. Don’t have what you don’t want. Personally I skip anything really splurgy unless I think I am REALLY going to love it. I’m picky with my splurges and that’s just because I know everything counts. I just hate wasting calories on mediocre food.

As far as portions go? There is no reason to get completely bloated. Full? Sure. Otherwise, again, the pity-party switch may be thrown. Eat until YOU are satisfied, not until your relatives are satisfied you’ve eaten as much as they have. In most homes? No one really cares what you’re eating as they’re too busy conversing, watching football, napping, and enjoying their own favorite foods.

What About Clean-Eating Tips?

This is a time of year when many magazines and Internet sites are offering “clean-eating tips” for Thanksgiving. I’m not against eating clean as long as it’s how you are REALLY hard-wired and it won’t cause a pity-party switch to be thrown. So far, at the ripe age of 51, I haven’t met a single person who is “wired” to eat only chicken breast and broccoli on Thanksgiving. The overwhelming majority of us are hard-wired to indulge at least some on Thanksgiving and to a lessor extent the next day too. For these reasons I don’t spend much time writing about holiday eating.

The 6-10 meals I’ll have on Thanksgiving and the day after are one-half of one percent of all the meals for the year. It’s inconsequential–if you STOP.

Top 7 Thanksgiving Guidelines For Weight-Management Success

1. INCREASE EXERCISE — I would suggest you increase exercise in the seven days prior to Thanksgiving by a total of 90 to 180 minutes. Men will burn about 10 calories a minute with vigorous exercise and women will burn about 8 calories a minute. This won’t save you entirely from the extra 3500 calories you may eat but it’ll help.

2. INDULGE A MAX OF FOUR TIMES IN TWO DAYS — Don’t invert my splurge-meal rule! A splurge meal is anyTHING you want as long as it’s not a trigger AND you know what calories, carbohydrate grams, fat grams and protein grams it provides. A trigger food is commonly one that you cannot stop eating once you start or that TRIGGERS you to want other junk food later in the day or even days later.

Lifestylers typically eat one splurge meal per week when losing weight. They eat 2-4 splurge meals per week when in maintenance.

If you typically eat four times per day that means you eat 28 times per week (4 X 7). If you have four splurge meals in a week because you are in maintenance then you have 24 quality Lifestyle-friendly meals. INVERTING the splurge rule would mean that you have 24 splurge meals and four Lifestyle-friendly meals. Don’t do that! And believe it or not — this is how MOST people eat every week.

Pay close attention and do your Thanksgiving splurges this way. I hereby grant every reader to have two moderate splurge meals on Thanksgiving AND two moderate splurge meals the day after. That’s a total of four splurges over two days. Don’t gorge. Eat till you’re satisfied–not until your relatives are satisfied. That will take care of your splurges for the next seven days.

And even though Thanksgiving in on Thursday and not a weekend day you’ve had your splurges after it’s over. This means that even though the weekend is coming the splurging needs to stop even though it’s the weekend! Continuing to eat on Friday, Saturday and Sunday like you did on Thanksgiving may move you beyond a small scale pop and 5-7 days of recovery to continued overeating and 5-7 weeks, 5-7 months or 5-7 years of continued overeating. I’m not kidding. I work with clients everyday who have lived this.

3. WEIGH YOURSELF EVERY DAY — Yes, the weight is going to go up. So what? The scale spike is 80-90 percent water. You need to know what you are doing while you are doing it. Do NOT wait to weigh yourself until after you have had too many splurges. Stay awake. Stay in the present. Don’t drift off into a Thanksgiving coma and wake up 5-7 days later beating yourself senseless with verbal abuse as you stand on the scale for the first time in a week. Weigh every single day. Stay in the present. Stay awake! And contrary to popular belief? It really is NOT mandatory that you feel like a pile when you stand on the scale and the number DOES go up. There is no law saying you must feel like dung when the scale goes up. It’s science. It’s supposed to go up when you take in more sodium and carbs than normal. You aren’t bad, flawed, failed or unlovable – it’s just science in motion. Observe the number – don’t take on a litany of failure attributes for doing what is normal and your body responding as it should.

4. DRINK MORE WATER — Flush, flush, flush. You might think it’s dumb to drink a lot of water since you will be holding more of it. Wrong. Water is the medium that your body uses to perform every chemical reaction that occurs. It can speed up metabolism if consumed adequately and slow metabolism if not enough. And drinking too little of it sends additional signals to the brain that cause the release of hormones telling your body to hold on to the water you do consume.

5. AFTER THE 2ND DAY, THROW IT AWAY — Make a commitment that what you don’t eat by the 2nd day (the day after Thanksgiving) you will throw or give away. By then you HAVE had enough. If you need to reset your pity-party switch now that tells you that two days of extra splurges is enough then begin good self-talk to accomplish this so you don’t feel you’ve been too good by stopping after the 2nd day. Don’t go into the weekend with a “may as well” and “I’ll start again on Monday” mindset.

6. ENJOY YOUR TIME WITH FAMILY — Enjoy the time with family. Give thanks for all you have in your life. Be safe.

7. EXERCISE MORE INTENSELY AFTER — The good thing about filling up on carb-rich foods is you will likely feel very strong and energetic for your workouts a day or two after Thanksgiving. The reason for this is muscle glycogen stores fill up or are “topped off” and it’s very common for those lifting weights to feel stronger and it’s very common for cardiobuffs to feel like they can perform at a higher intensity for a longer duration. So, use this to your advantage. Hit the exercise with a little more intensity, burn more calories, and do what you did in the week prior to Thanksgiving–exercise for 90 to 180 minutes more in the seven days following Thanksgiving.

Well, that about wraps up my Leanness Lifestyle Thanksgiving tips. You can bet I’ll be indulging and performing just as I’ve suggested for you here. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!