Not many people equate Thanksgiving and a tsunami, but one doctor sure does. Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, says that the typical Thanksgiving meal is “like a tsunami of fat coming into the body.” On average, she says, Americans consume about 4,500 calories and 229 grams of unhealthy fat on Thanksgiving Day.
In fact, gobble, gobble may sum up those overeating habits that start with Thanksgiving and often continue into the new year. Maybe that’s why many people gain between four to seven pounds in the time between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day. We all know that late November ushers in the beginning of the holiday season with turkey and all the trimmings, including stuffing. But there’s another kind of stuffing going on—continual overeating to the point of discomfort—an unhealthy cycle that can last for the rest of the holiday season.
It’s not unusual for many to overindulge during Thanksgiving or other holidays. There’s more at stake than indigestion and feeling bloated, though. Loading up on the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, pumpkin pie and other foods—binge-style—can not only increase your chances of starting on a “holiday overeating streak,” but can also increase your risk for obesity and even heart attacks.
Interestingly, when food travels through the body, it releases digestive fluids, chemicals and hormones along the way. An average meal takes 1 to 3 hours to leave the stomach, but a large meal like the Thanksgiving meal may take 8 to 12 hours to leave the stomach. And speaking of the stomach . . . here’s a Biology tidbit for you. Did you know that the average stomach capacity is about 8 cups, but can range from 4 to 12 cups? That’s a lot of stomach room, and many people keep filling up their tummies to capacity over the holidays.
The stomach isn’t the only thing that’s stretched during overeating, though. For example, the extra digestion required after overeating makes the heart pump more blood to the stomach and intestines, which can stress the heart. Consuming larger amounts of unhealthy fatty foods can also cause the blood to clot more easily, which could result in a higher heart attack risk. In fact, one study showed that there was a four-fold increase in heart attack risk in the two hours that followed eating a large meal. In a separate study, there was a seven-fold increase of heart attack risk after eating too much at one sitting.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Thanksgiving meals and other holiday celebrations, though. Just limit what you eat and make healthy choices. In short, be sure you don’t constantly overeat and stuff yourself.
Leave the stuffing for the turkey. You don’t want a Thanksgiving tsunami.