Have you ever felt like your eyes were bigger than your stomach? According to scientists, it can take about 30 minutes for your brain to catch up with the rest of your body when you’re eating. Faced with a table overloaded with typical Thanksgiving fare, each of those minutes is an opportunity to overeat without realizing it.
But even if you know you’re overdoing it, you might not be compelled to stop. It’s Thanksgiving, the nation’s designated day for celebratory gluttony. Overeating isn’t just okay; it’s encouraged. As experts point out in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, how much we eat is largely influenced by how much those around us eat and how much we’re expected to consume.
Today, an average Thanksgiving feast consists of two or more types of meat, more sides than can fit on the table, and multiple desserts. With such variety and quantity, it’s no wonder that people often consume upwards of 3,000 calories each Thanksgiving Day.
Because it’s so easy and so expected to overindulge, it’s important that you prepare yourself. A little restraint and the right exercise routine can help your body burn off the excess weight Thanksgiving brings, giving you something else to be thankful for.
Lifelong Consequences of Holiday Feasting
The worrisome thing isn’t just our tendency to overeat on Thanksgiving, but what we overeat — and the mentality that “the holidays” make it OK. Usually, turkey and green beans won’t threaten your health. But the sugars, starches, and calories in the rest of a Thanksgiving spread can cause serious health problems, like blood sugar spikes and increased inflammation.
It also doesn’t help that people tend to think of the holidays as an entire season lasting two to three months and that Thanksgiving rules apply the entire time. The “I’ll start taking fitness seriously in January” attitude is one of the most significant reasons why end-of-the-year feasts can pose long-term consequences, such as increased risks of heart attacks and permanent weight gain.
Doctors have known for decades now that the rate of coronary-related deaths in America always increases by an estimated 33 percent during the winter holidays. These higher rates remained constant in warmer climates like Southern California’s, so experts ruled out cold weather. Instead, they believe the phenomenon is related to changes in behavior around the holidays, including “increased food, salt, and alcohol consumption.”
Such behaviors also lead to more permanent weight gain than you might realize. You might gain only two or three pounds over the holidays, but in most cases, that extra holiday weight sticks around. Then, it’s compounded by the next year’s round of feasting and seemingly minor weight gain.
The good news is that you don’t have to forfeit Thanksgiving or its feast to keep your weight and health in check. You just need balance, a commitment to your own well-being, and an exercise routine that specifically boosts your body’s ability to burn off excess food.
Exercises to Bounce Back From Thanksgiving
Exercises that recruit large muscle groups have the most potential to burn calories during and after your workout. That potential varies depending on the total volume and intensity of the routine. The term “time under tension” refers to how long you perform each set, and when enough exercises are performed for at least 30 seconds, your muscles produce large amounts of lactic acid by breaking down and oxidizing glucose.
The more intense the exercise, the less oxygen will be present and the more lactic acid will be produced. Along with resulting hydrogen ions, this causes the burning sensation in your muscles as you push through each set. High lactic acid levels lead to more growth hormones and an elevated metabolic rate — a combination that is ideal to stimulate fat loss.
These exercises use some of the biggest muscle groups in your body, including your legs, glutes, and lats, and can significantly boost your body’s fat-fighting abilities:
1. Deadlifts: Four Sets of 10 (Two-Minute Rest Between Sets)
Take a shoulder-width stance and lower yourself to the bar while keeping your chest high and eyes looking forward. Draw a deep breath into your stomach and brace your abdominals at the beginning of each rep, then use your legs to initiate the pull. Keep the bar close to your body and finish by pushing your hips through and your shoulders back. This lift works every muscle in the body but emphasizes the lower body and lats.
2. Posterior Chain Work: Three Sets of 12 to 15 (Two-Minute Rest Between Sets)
Lock yourself into position by keeping your lats tight and dorsiflex your feet. Initiate the movement by flexing the glutes and hamstrings while keeping your legs straight. Do not hyperextend in the top position, and stop when your legs are parallel to the ground. This exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
3. Sled pulls: Three Sets, 45 Seconds Each (One-Minute Rest Between Sets)
Gripping the sled with arms fully extended, begin walking backward by keeping your weight on the toes and your head and chest held high. Pull for 45 seconds per set, and rest for one minute between sets. This exercise focuses on your quads and calves but is also a great for strengthening your glutes and hamstrings.
4. Pull-ups: Three Sets of as Many Reps as Possible (Two-Minute Rest Between Sets)
Start each rep with your arms fully extended at the bottom and lats stretched. Pull yourself up by driving the elbows down and back until your chin goes above the bar. Lower yourself under control to complete each rep. If you are unable to complete many reps on your own, then use an assistive band to give your reps a boost (as shown in the video).
5. Isometric Abdominal Work: Two Sets Per Side, 45 Seconds Each (One-Minute Rest Between Sets)
For this plank/row combo, your knees should have a slight bend, and your abs need to be tight with a slight arch in the lower back. Squeeze your glutes, and try to keep your body in a straight line. Grab the cable attachment, and row under control by using your lats. The prolonged tension of this exercise promotes greater muscle gain in your lats and upper back.
On a day when we’re meant to be especially thankful, a little overindulgence is understandable. To lower your risks of causing long-term damage to your overall health, though, be sure to balance the festivities. Feast on Thanksgiving Day, not the whole month, and prep your body to burn off the excess by boosting your muscle mass.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.