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The Thanksgiving pig-out
The Thanksgiving pig-out
So it's a tradition to eat yourself sick on Turkey Day. But is it a rule? Hardly. In fact, people who know a thing or two about good health say it's time to start a few new traditions, like moderation and exercise. Dr. John Sites knows Thanksgiving is a tough holiday when it comes to staying on a diet. But does that mean it's OK on Turkey Day to throw calories to the wind and totally pig out?

"People overeat because it's traditional. It stands out as a food holiday," Sites said.

"The only thing is, the original Pilgrims had a feast because they were thankful they had enough to eat. We're pretty much thankful that we can stuff ourselves until we can't eat any more. Then we spend the rest of the day on the couch watching football."

He feels like Thanksgiving and Christmas get a bad rap. It's not that people eat too much on Thanksgiving. It's that they don't quit eating until New Year's. "People will tell me they put on that 15 pounds at Christmas and Thanksgiving. There's no way you could gain that much weight from one or two meals."

It's tough, he admits, to resist the temptation of family favorite dishes that are part of the Thanksgiving feast, but you can still enjoy yourself without making a hog of yourself. There are a lot of things you can do, like making sure you don't skip breakfast that day, so you won't eat as much. Drink water that day so you stay more full.

Local dietitian Barbara Roberts knows that many of us overeat for lots of reasons.

"Some were conditioned as children to 'clean our plates' and may still feel the need to continue to please our parents by cleaning our plate," she said.

"Some of us also have grown up around the so-called comfort foods, food and meals your parents may have prepared for you to celebrate a special occasion." Around the holidays when these comfort foods are plentiful and emotions may be running high, overeating is often a way people deal with problems. "However, overeating often not only makes you feel physically worse it does not solve any problems. Exercise, even light physical activity, is a great stress reliever and releases the feel good endorphins."

Another reason people tend to overeat more during the holidays is that it's just more accepted, Roberts said. "It is common in our culture for everyone to overeat and then sit around and watch television or sit on the couch with the top button to your pants undone on your already too tight pants, and chat with family members," she said. But, one of the reasons for Thanksgiving overeating is that we simply fix too much food.

"Researchers have shown that the more options people have to eat, the more they eat," Roberts said.

"Research has even found that when there are six colors of M&Ms instead of four colors, people eat more." That might be great for candymakers, but someone who really wants to cut back can stay the course by, well, staying the courses.

"So, instead of having mashed potatoes, hash brown casserole, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, wild rice, oyster stuffing and cornbread dressing, why not just have one starch and one stuffing," she suggested.

"The money you'll save you'll need for the day after Thanksgiving shopping; and your family will thank you from having less to clean up and they'll be less likely to overeat and feel bad themselves."

When it comes to dessert, scale back to two or three types of pies, cookies or cakes when in previous years you've baked eight or more.

"Keep in mind most of us should keep our meat intake to 6 to 8 ounces daily or less, so a 20-pound turkey should feed close to 40 people!" she said.

"Keep this in mind if there are only 10 people coming over for your Thanksgiving. Get a 3-pound turkey breast instead!"

"And, be sure to remind your family members that you do love them, and that's why you did not spend all night the night before making six different pies, three different stuffings and four different potatoes."

She knows this works, because a few years ago her family decided to go for a long walk after Thanksgiving brunch.

"Maybe after Thanksgiving dinner you could go to the beach with out-of-town guests, a peaceful way to wind down. Or, maybe play a game of sports: football, basketball, soccer, etc. The kids, both young and old often enjoy this," she said.

Copyright 2006, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.