A simple decision tree for Thanksgiving

    Do you have an eating strategy for the holidays?

    Check out this graph of holiday weight gain in three different countries.

    About two-thirds of our readers live in the U.S., so we’ll focus on Thanksgiving today.

    Thanksgiving is the start of America’s “eating season”, a 40-day period that stretches until New Year’s Day is over. Despite constituting only 11% of the 365-day year, this period contributes the bulk of yearly weight gain for many people.

    Decision tree time:

    • If you’ve ever gained weight that you didn’t want during the holidays, you have a couple basic options that we’ll cover in this article.
    • If you don’t care one bit about holiday eating and weight, feel free to skip this article and join us next week for a new topic!

    You might think I’m going to suggest that you eat healthy on Thanksgiving. Nope!

    Your holiday eating is up to you, and nobody should shame you for it or force healthy (and typically less tasty) options on you.

    But it’s good to be aware of your options.

    Your first option is to eat mostly whatever you feel like on Thanksgiving, in mostly whatever amount you want. This option is a good one if you’re confident that …

    • You won’t have an acute reaction that negates your happiness from eating delicious food, such as stomach upset or worsening of a health condition.
    • Overeating on Thanksgiving won’t open the spigot, so to speak, paving the way for your brain to allow more overeating during the rest of the holidays.

    Keep in mind that the strategy of “This is a one-time thing — I’ll just go back to eating mostly healthy tomorrow,” works for some people, but fails for most.

    So do you feel confident about the above two bullet points?

    • If so, you can stop reading.
    • If not, check out the strategies below.

    There are two main strategies for mitigating holiday weight gain.

    First, you can eat differently on the days around the holiday, but eat what you’d like on the holiday itself. For example, a randomized trial from 2021 showed that doing a specific type of intermittent fasting during the holidays can curb holiday weight gain.

    Any safe way of moderating food intake during the holiday period would help mitigate holiday weight gain.

    The second strategy is to change the way you eat on the holiday days themselves.

    You can still eat your favorite foods, but load up on appetite-suppressing foods first: protein, fibrous foods, and water.

    If you need to, you can also add on any other reasonable method to keep overeating to a low-to-moderate level: calorie counting, having an accountability buddy, having only one portion of trigger foods, and so on.

    Using one or more of these strategies can help you shift the holiday weight gain odds in your favor. You might overeat a bit on holiday days, but knowing that you put forth some effort to control your eating can help you psychologically on the non-holiday days and boost your self-confidence.

    That way, you won’t be as likely to yo-yo diet, meaning you won’t eat a ton, then deprive yourself for long stretches, for dieting cycle upon dieting cycle.

    Keep in mind that your mileage may vary, and what works for most people might not work for you.

    In any case, whether or not you watch what you eat during the 40 days from Thanksgiving to the end of New Year’s, I hope you eat some delicious food and get to spend time with loved ones. Just don’t preach to them about dietary choices! (But maybe tell them about Examine. Kidding … or am I?)


    Kamal Patel
    Co-founder, Examine

    P.S. We’re developing Examine Pro, which will enable health professionals to generate handouts and protocols from Examine’s FAQs and Supplement Guides. If you would be interested in using this feature, please contact us. We’d love to chat!