Thanksgiving Weight Gain – Fact or Fiction?

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

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It’s the start of the Holiday Season!  I love the holidays.  Food, fun and family.  It’s a great time of year for those things. It’s not a great time of year for most of us in terms of our health, however.  But, instead of focusing on the bad things, I want to fill you in on a health myth that surrounds Thanksgiving.  Hopefully I can put your mind at ease and you can enjoy your Thanksgiving just a little bit more.

Myth – I will gain 5 pounds from eating too much this weekend

This blog comes from something a patient said to me this morning about gaining weight this weekend.  I thought it would be a good topic to analyze and share with you all.

Weight gain is an interesting subject.  People are often very concerned about how much weight they gain over the entire holiday season from Thanksgiving to the New Year.  If you look at the statistics, most people are rightfully concerned.  The average American will gain 12 pounds over the holiday season!  That’s a lot to gain in just 6 weeks.

If the average American gains 12 pounds over 6 weeks then how could someone gain an entire 5 pounds over the course of this long weekend?  Is it possible?  If you ask many men and women across the country they will tell you it is.  I’ve had many patients tell me that they have weighed themselves before and after Thanksgiving and found they’ve easily gained 5 pounds in one weekend.  Fortunately, they are confusing what the scale says with actual weight gain.  Let me explain.

In order to gain 5 pounds of fat in just 4 days a person would have to consume an inordinate amount of food over that 4 day span.  One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories so five pounds of fat contains 17,500 calories.  You might be thinking, ‘I could eat 17,500 calories over this 4 day binge no problem.’  That may be the case but you have to remember that you will burn calories as well.  These calories are required for your heart to beat, for you to breathe, for your brain to function, etc.  The list could go on and on.  Essentially, given an average metabolism, you would have to consume an extra 17,500 calories over a 4 day period.  This does not apply if you are insulin resistant or have other hormonal problems.  Although it would still be difficult to gain 5 pounds in 4 days, keep that in mind.

Let’s put that into perspective –

The average person will burn about 2,000 calories in a day.  So over this 4 day holiday weekend a person would burn about 8,000 calories assuming no exercise is taking place.  That means to gain 5 pounds you would need to consume a total of 25,500 calories over the 4 day weekend.  That’s 6,375 calories per day!  That’s a lot of calories.

According to the American Council on Exercise, the average American will consume 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving day.  That’s no where near the required 6,375 needed to jump start this 5 pound weight gain.  And remember, you’d need to consume 6,375 calories everyday over the weekend to gain 5 pounds.

‘So then why does my scale read 5 pounds heavier on Monday?’ I hear you saying.  This is likely from water retention.  Between the meal, the alcohol and the lack of physical movement water begins to accumulate in all areas of the body.  Water weighs a lot and this is reflected on the scale when you check it.  Basically, it is a physiologic impossibility to actually gain 5 pounds of fat in 4 days.  Remember, the scale is only measuring your weight, not fat.  Many factors will affect your weight.  Try not to confuse what you weigh with actual weight gain.  In this case one does not equal the other.  Phew!

Now, this is not to say that you will not gain any weight over the holiday weekend.  You might, but it can be avoided.  Stay active and make your worst day Thanksgiving.  Don’t continue it through Sunday.  If you return to healthy eating habits and exercise after Thursday there is no reason for weight gain over this weekend.  Keep that in mind and enjoy!

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Thanksgiving Weight Gain – Fact or Fiction?

  1. chris porter

    Thats beautiful math right there! I’ve argued this same point for years, but using a different formula. I heard somewhere through the years that humans have an 8% consumption to biomass conversion rate. meaning that 8% of what we eat becomes (or replaces) part of our body. (interesting side note, the octopus has the highest at nearly 80%, and also nearly doubles in size after most feedings)

    Given that math, roughly speaking we’d gain 1 lb for every 12lbs we consume. If you think you can consume 60lbs of food (and liquid) in 4 days, I’m in to watch but thats a *serious* undertaking.

    there’s a great article floating around about the “I lost 50lbs in 50 days” diet scam, where the author sponsors and pays two people to do the reverse and *gain* 50lbs in 50 days, while documenting the whole thing. The two contestants were quite healthy to start, and *highly motivated to do it* and even they couldn’t quite make it. Even after consuming all the high calorie things they could think of (including weight gainer @ 4k calories per serving). If they cant do 1lb a day…. how are we going to gain 5lbs in 4 days on thanksgiving weekend? 🙂

    obviously my numbers are more theoretical and less concrete than cort’s, so readers take it with a grain of salt. (literally) 😉

  2. Pingback: Shed Pounds Before The Holidays

  3. Very interesting post. Thanks for the info

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