Can You Prep Your Body for Thanksgiving?

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The average American will consume about 2,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. What’s the best way to prep your body for the biggest feast of the year? Nutritionists have several tips -- but, they say, don’t forget that the bottom line is to enjoy the day with family and friends.

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Lace up your running shoes, hit the gym, crank up the Zumba DVD. Exercise seems to help people handle the energy from the meal, said Mark Haub, a nutrition professor at Kansas State. Most research has focused on how the body processes pre-mixed concentrations of carbs and fats, not real food, but Haub thinks the general principle would apply to turkey and mashed potatoes, too. And it can’t hurt -- just don’t go sprint a 5K if you’ve never done one before, he advises.

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Don’t skimp. “Not eating for a few days would be a bad idea -- you’d end up feeling worse,” said Joanne Slavin, a nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. “Eating up to it would be better.” Competitive eaters stretch out their stomachs before an event by downing gallons of water, or eating huge amounts of watery vegetables, like entire heads of boiled cabbage.

However, nutritionists tend to frown on treating Thanksgiving as a competitive event.

“I’d want to know why they're wanting to do that,” Haub said. “I’m not sure Thanksgiving is a reason to stretch your stomach from a health outcome.”

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Plan. View your calories as a budget. If you’re going to spend more at the feast, eat less upfront, Haub said -- especially if you’re attending two gatherings. If you’re hosting, make sure people are aware of what’s in your recipes, so guests can avoid gluten or dairy or anything they’re sensitive to, Slavin said.

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Eat mindfully. These are current buzzwords in the nutrition realm, Haub said, and for good reason. If you approach your holiday feast as free reign, you’ll likely overgorge. Instead, “Why don’t you get a smaller plate? Have one scoop of everything.”

Sensors in the stomach remind us when we’re physically full, so be present to that reflex, experts advise. Food reaches your stomach quickly -- within minutes -- so for some people, having to loosen a belt may be an obvious cue. Hormones will also signal fullness -- but that takes time, so slow down.

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