St. Louis — This shouldn't come as a surprise: Thanksgiving is not the green light to a six-week indulgence that precedes the waddle back to the gym Jan. 2.
Experts advise Americans not to throw good habits out the window on Turkey Day and into the holiday season. Instead, choose carefully, eat slowly, and savor.
"It's normal and expected that most of us are going to overeat over the holidays," said St. Louis dietitian Diane Zych.
For most healthy people "it's a blip on the screen," she said. "But for people who struggle with their weight, it's a very dangerous time, it can really throw them off target."
The holiday season that starts with Thanksgiving (or even Halloween) and ends with New Year's is a slippery slope, said Barry Popkin, who directs the University of North Carolina Interdisciplinary Obesity Center. He said studies have shown that seasonal weight gain can be significant - up to 10 pounds.
"A pound you can't remove is a pound for life," he said.
For all but the very health-conscious person who exercises a lot, the extra pounds that come from excess calories are not likely to melt away, Popkin said. He recommends enjoying pie and turkey with lots of water while cutting back on alcohol and other high-caloric drinks.
"Beyond that, if you eat a huge amount of food, work it off and walk it off, walk around the block," he said.
It would take 27 minutes of walking to burn the 97 calories in an 8-ounce serving of cola. A really fast mile would burn 125 calories, Popkin notes.
But that barely dents the 2,000 to 3,000 calories in an average Thanksgiving meal.
Three ounces of white turkey meat is only 130 calories, but a serving of sweet potato casserole is 330 calories; stuffing is 107; a slice of pumpkin pie is more than 300, while a piece of pecan pie is 500 calories.
On previous Thanksgivings, Patty Wade, 61, would have helped herself to a piece of that pecan pie, along with a large serving of corn casserole and potatoes. But things are different this year.
Wade, a senior analyst for a St. Louis hospital, has lost 55 pounds since March, and doesn't plan to regain any of it despite dealing with three Thanksgiving celebrations and four family birthdays this month.
Now, she restricts herself to a reasonable portion of meat, vegetables without high-calorie sauces, and a few bites of dessert. She's bringing dessert to today's feast, a "really good yellow cake that doesn't require icing."
Dr. Robert Kushner, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recommends having a plan of action like Wade's, and visualizing the meal beforehand.
He suggests deciding ahead of time what can and cannot be eaten, eating while sitting rather than standing and talking, and from a plate not off a tray to keep things in proportion.
Take small bites and eat slowly. And, don't get stuck in guilt if you've eaten too much.
"Feeling guilty just leads to 'I blew my diet, so I won't start again until January,'" he said. "That's the worse thing you can do."