How To Still Enjoy Thanksgiving Without Derailing All Your Fat Loss Efforts

thanksgiving diet


One Thursday in late November a couple of hundred years ago Christopher Columbus and a few Native Americans got together to celebrate being grateful for one another in a day long bacchanal of drinking, eating, and general revelry. It was a grand time had by all.

And now that we know that’s not how things worked out at all, despite the fact that our 3rd-grade teachers tried to hide the much uglier version of history from us, we still celebrate Thanksgiving. And we celebrate it hard. Which also makes it not exactly coincidental that this is the time when many a diet tend to go off track and find their fat loss efforts at a halt.

I’m here to fix that for you. Here’s your Thanksgiving cheat sheet:

You’ve got to save for your Thanksgiving.

If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving, you know it’s not a cheap endeavor. Even if people bring other dishes, you’ve got to be prepared for quite a few people coming over to eat and drink until they’re so full you’ve got to roll them out. And for most of us, that means setting aside some money to be ready for that.

Buy enough to supply 20 people, and you’re out a few hundred dollars. If you’re smart about that, you save. The same can be said about your Thanksgiving calories.

With alcohol and a social setting it’s easy for someone to throw back 1,000+ calories on top of what they normally would. That’s not enough to equal even 1lb of fat gain, but it can slow progress. If you’re in a diet, slowing progress is the last thing you want to do.

Most of this slowing comes in the form of alcohol, which has a three-pronged approach in halting fat loss:

1)   You metabolize it first, so all other fat burning shuts down

2)   It lowers inhibition, so you’re more likely to eat more when drunk

3)   It makes it more difficult to get quality training sessions in the next day

Prepare and prevent fat loss stalling by saving calories in the days leading up the festivities. The harder you intend to go, the more you should save.

Go big picture.

Your caloric intake is a big picture view. We often think of calorie intake as a daily thing, when it’s really a weekly and monthly measurement. So with anomalies like Thanksgiving taking place, calorie intake is slightly raised. Not by a ton over the course of a month, but enough to be a speed bump to progress.

We plan for that by removing a few hundred calories per day in the time leading up to the festivities. If you plan 5 days in advance, and eat 200 calories fewer per day, you’ve saved 1,000 total calories to enjoy on Thanksgiving without destroying your progress.

1,000 extra calories in the bank that you can enjoy on Thanksgiving, all by removing a serving of peanut butter every single day.

If Thanksgiving is more like Thanksgiving weekend for you, like it is for most of us, then you need to be a bit more careful in planning. Over the course of 3 days it’s easy to get in an extra 3,000 to 4,000 calories, and this can do damage to a fat loss program.

In order to prepare, you might need a more drastic deficit in order to create enough savings. Or, if you don’t have enough time, you may need to eat at a larger deficit for a few days after to make up for the overall intake.

I like capping the deficit at 500 calories, because anymore gets pretty tough to deal with from a mental standpoint. So instead of removing just a serving of peanut butter each day, also remove a couple of servings of olive oil or carbs.

The Thanksgiving workout.

I’m a big fan of working out on holidays like Thanksgiving. The gym is usually a bit less crowded, and I like to get a great sweat session in to burn through some additional calories, as well as get my metabolism humming along before the impending debauchery.

One of my favorite ways to do this is by incorporating strength circuits. Think of compound movements that involve some heavy weights, all done at a fast pace.

This keeps my heart rate high, and gets plenty of muscles firing at once. This makes for some pretty serious calorie burning, in a very short amount of time.

What’s also beautiful is an effect known as EPOC. EPOC is putting your body into an oxygen debt via exercise. When you do this, your body must compensate by burning more calories to make up for the oxygen debt.

This effect can last for a long time, about 24-48 hours. Couple that with the calories you burn during a workout, and the calories you’ve saved via diet (the BIG key), and you’ve got a formula to prevent fat gain even in the most debauchery filled holidays.

The workout:

Circuit A

  • Goblet squat x20 reps
  • Dumbbell incline press x15 reps
  • 1 arm dumbbell row x15
  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlift x12

(Do this 4x total, resting 60 seconds between each round. Move from exercise 1,2,3,4 then rest. That’s 1 round.)

Circuit B

  • Kettlebell swing x15
  • Kettlebell front squat x10
  • Kettlebell press x8

(Do this 3x total, rest 40 seconds between each round)

Circuit C

  • Burpee x10
  • Mountain Climber x40

(Do this 2x total, resting 20 seconds between each round)

What to keep in mind

Calorie intake is a big picture thing. One day won’t lead to 5lbs of fat gain. You may be more on the scale, but that’s not fat. Most of that is likely from water and full carbohydrate stores.

It’s really hard to gain 1lb of fat, especially in one day. Plan ahead by eating at a deficit. Give yourself more calories to play with, guilt free. Work out to get your metabolism humming, burn calories, and deplete carb stores.

Enjoy the hell out of the holiday. Let yourself have that pie, that cake, and that beer. If you’re beating yourself up over what it might do to your waistline, then stop it. Unless you’re a competitor who is a week out from competition, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

After all, the holiday was made in celebration of us workers. It’d be rude not to celebrate it.

Tanner is a fitness professional and writer based in the metro Atlanta area. His training focus is helping normal people drop absurd amounts of fat, become strong like bull, and get in the best shape of their life.