Last year, in one of my first blog posts, I explained why people obsess too much about gaining weight over the holidays. People spend entirely too much time worrying about the impact of a few days in November and December. But the last month of the year can’t cancel out your good behavior for the rest of the year. It’s not a problem to overdo things occasionally. Your habits determine your outcomes, not your occasional dalliance with debauchery over the holidays.
This year, I proved why it’s not a problem. And proved how it’s possible to celebrate over the holidays and still stay in shape. I’ve just eaten all sorts of rich, holiday food for Thanksgiving. But I won’t gain a pound. Don’t believe me? Here’s how it works.
The night before Thanksgiving we typically gather together with a slightly less excessive meal than the gala of gluttony that commences at midday on the fourth Thursday of November. This year, the main course was glazed ham. That’s right Keto bros. Glazed. With sugary stuff. Imagining your looks of horror while reading this gives me great schadenfreude.
The sides were green bean casserole and seven layer salad and broccoli. These may sound healthy, but they consist heavily of things involving butter or mayonnaise or cream cheese. Also, there was sweet potato casserole, which has both sugar and butter. So we added fattening stuff to make sure these things weren’t too healthy.
I mean, there’s good stuff in there. The green beans have a good all around assortment of vitamins and minerals. And the casserole included red bell peppers, which have plenty of vitamin A and C. Broccoli, like most green things, is very healthy. And when you dig under the layers of mayonnaise in the seven layer salad, you’ll find peas, celery, and lettuce. These have a decent collection of nutrients too. Well, the peas do. Lettuce and celery are mostly just water in a slightly crunchier, greenish form.
Even the sweet potato casserole (which excludes marshmallows, because we’re not heathens) has a healthy chunk of ground pecans on it (because we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in at my parents house in Georgia, so of course it does), and the truth is, sweet potatoes are actually sort of healthy. They are heavy on vitamin A, and have an assortment of other nutrients. And as I’ve pointed out before, nuts can bring all sorts of good things to your diet.
So the real problem is not the nutrition. It’s the calories. This was a 900 calorie meal. I’ll be metabolically healthy (I.E. have all of the vitamins and minerals), but I’ll potentially be fatter. And the next day I went even further than this.
Thanksgiving dinner consisted first of all of….leftovers from the night before. Of course it did. Southerners are known for their frugality. This is the part of the country where we reuse pickle jars as drinking glasses. Also, we had more food leftover than normal since several people didn’t arrive thanks to the Captain Trips Plague of 2020 That Emerged From Wuhan And Laid Waste To The World. Or at least the economy.
But in addition to every calorie heavy item from the night before, we had: White and dark turkey meat (Thanksgiving, duh) and cranberry salad (Thanksgiving, also duh). These are also sort of high calorie, but not unhealthy. The turkey has a good chunk of B vitamins and various minerals (like iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and selenium), and the cranberry salad (which has apples and coconut in it), has a nice chunk of various non-B vitamins. But also sugar and cream. So again, nutritious, but high calorie. Especially because I got seconds.
This was a 1,300 calorie meal. Normally, anything over 700 calories per meal is something we should be cautious of, and over a 1,000 is not a normal habit we should have. But there is a rather obvious way to offset this. Do active stuff.
I’m always a bit shocked by how many people focus on food or “The Food System“™ when discussing the problem of obesity. But as I discussed in my very first post, exercise is a huge part of the equation when it comes to calorie burn. Perhaps the biggest part. So getting out and getting a little nuts is how I fight down the side effects (and belly and butt and thigh effects) of holiday carousing.
The obvious way is tooling around with my brother’s kids. My nephew has the energy levels of a hyperactive kid who snorts cocaine. He doesn’t snort cocaine, obviously, because my brother isn’t a felon. But I occasionally wonder about his sugar intake, since his energy levels seem…unnatural. And my niece is his biggest cheerleader, and gleefully participates in whatever chaotic games he invents.
This typically involves running around like a lunatic and randomly inventing rules to a game which state that whatever he is doing at any given moment is how to score points. This capriciousness in making rules proves that my nephew is basically an autocratic fascist waiting to happen. Anyway, this inevitably results in him scoring somewhere between 1010 and 10400 points (and my niece maybe getting three points) due to his arbitrary rule-making. He’s a fascist. Your future overlord. It’s virtually guaranteed.
This also results in one very exhausted uncle. Now, there’s no option in Cronometer for an exercise entitled “Playing With Psychotic Children”. But given the level of exhaustion I feel after an hour, I imagine this burns 400 – 800 calories. So this usually works off the extra food I had at lunch. Unfortunately, thanks to the Creeping Doom Born Of Winged Rodents From Hubei Province, the kids couldn’t come this year. So this wasn’t an option in 2020.
Of course, there is another thing that always happens when I go home. One thing I suck at, but like to do, is golf. I’ve pointed out before that these seemingly light exercises are actually good exercise. My dad loves golf (retired Army guys are almost as fanatical about golf as doctors), and we play every time I visit home. Which normally burns 800 – 1,000 calories over a four hour round. But I probably burn more, because I miss. A lot. Which results in me swinging the club a lot more than normal.
Another option is to work it off on Black Friday. I’ve never subjected myself to the wild pandemonium that is Black Friday shopping, but eight hours of just walking is over 2,000 calories burned. And if you fight and shout with rando strangers over the latest toy or video game that your kids absolutely must have, the burn increases. And if you do it at Wal-Mart, it’s even better. Black Friday at Wal-Mart is a combination of a shopping spree, a street brawl, and civil unrest. I pointed out in my last piece that civil unrest and brawling can be very good exercise. Even though it has certain felonious downsides.
When all else fails, I can just take a walk. Rather than collapse on the couch in a carb-induced coma, I go out and walk for an hour or so. This year, I took walks around the neighborhood with my wife, admiring the Christmas decorations (that were already up), waving to the friendly neighbors (who are much nicer than the people in my adoptive home of Florida, which has a lot of cranky people who immigrated from the frozen wastelands north of Virginia and brought their strange, rude manners with them), and dodging the ubiquitous full-size pickups, jeeps, four-wheelers and dune buggies that zip up and down the streets. It’s rural Georgia, after all. It comes with certain hillbilly hazards.
We took a seventy minute walk the day before Thanksgiving, resulting in a calorie deficit of 300 for the day when combined with what I ate and my normally basal metabolic rate. Not as good as the 500 calorie deficit I normally aim for, but still good. On Thanksgiving, we took an eighty minute walk, which burned off 400 calories. This brought my calories eaten to about the same as I burned. So I broke even on a day of the year known for binge eating. Which is not bad.
And since what we eat for Christmas is more or less the same, I already know how I’m going to survive the holidays with the same pants size. All I have to do is take the time I would normally spend hibernating after dinner and instead get outside and exercise. This is all it takes to keep the weight off during the holidays. Of course, New Year’s is a different story, but I’ve written before about how to avoid getting fat from alcohol.
So the secret is not a secret. Go ahead and eat like a fool for the holidays, but then get out and go nuts. Exercise for an hour every day. And eat that turkey and pumpkin pie and everything unhealthy (including egg nog) with no guilt whatsoever. You can have a happy, merry time this year no matter what holiday you celebrate. If you keep exercising, you’ll have a guilt-free and gluttonous, wondrous time.
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