In recent days, the Boston Globe’s website, Boston.com, posted its annual slide slow of an advice column, “How to Cut 1,000 Calories from Thanksgiving.”
The Globe has included this feature in its virtual Turkey Day section for many years, hoping to assure those watching their weight that fully enjoying the fourth Thursday of November and blowing a giant hole in one’s diet are not mutually dependent phenomena.
Allow me to save you a few precious seconds and reveal this magical waistline-preserving secret right here and now: If you wish to eat less food on Thanksgiving, eat less food on Thanksgiving.
I jest not. To quote directly from one of the slides: “Instead of piling on a full cup of mashed potatoes on your plate, consider scooping only half as much.” From another: “Instead of covering your plate with 6 ounces of a combo of white and dark [turkey] meat with skin, consider taking only 3 ounces of meat and leaving the fatty skin in the roasting pan with the rest of the grease.”
Smaller portions? Less fat? Genius! Why didn’t I think of that?
In fairness, the Globe also offers slightly more sophisticated tips for reigning yourself in, such as stir-frying the veggie casserole instead of dousing it with fried onion rings. But the takeaway message is the same: The trick to eating well is eating well.
If this insight comes as breaking news to a significant portion of America’s weight loss community, then it’s no wonder our country is so irretrievably fat.
However, I suspect this is not the case. The truth is that all who are serious about scaling themselves down know exactly how to do it: Eat less, exercise more. Period, full stop. It works every time and never lets you down.
The only mystery involves summoning the willpower to do so, and then to keep it up for the rest of your life.
Accordingly, Thanksgiving indeed presents as a singular conundrum. Apart from its more noble components, the whole point of this most American of holidays is to gorge ourselves into a blissful stupor simply because we can.
Yes, pretty much all of our annual national festivals involve an unholy assortment of culinary treats of one kind of another. But Thanksgiving is unique in its insistence on gobbling up every last bit of it and licking the plate when you’re done. The feast isn’t a mere side show; it’s the main event.
And that makes a real difference for those who make a point of avoiding exactly that.
It’s bad enough for a dieter to be overwhelmed by a bottomless buffet of hearty holiday helpings. But to be all but ordered by one’s culture—and by relatives across the table—to dive in until it’s all gone? Well, the psychological odds are not in your favor.
Your humble servant is certainly no exception. I walked into last year’s family gathering determined, as ever, to keep my cravings under control. Then out came the chips, the ale, the stuffing, the casseroles, the fruit salads—each new dish more impossibly sumptuous than the last—and all my defenses vaporized on contact. At dessert, one whiff of my cousin’s homemade sweet potato pie and all hell broke loose.
In short, the effort at moderation was futile. The fact is, Thanksgiving is not the time for restraint or self control. Thanksgiving is about gluttony and excess and that’s just the way it is.
If, like me, you are simultaneously preoccupied with maintaining a slim figure yet utterly powerless in the face of fragrant culinary temptations, my Thanksgiving Day prescription is to give up. To abandon any possibility of awakening on Black Friday without a rounded tummy and a splitting headache. To relax and roll with the tide. Some traditions simply cannot be fought.
And if, like the Globe’s target audience, you truly wish to deduct 1,000 calories from your Thanksgiving budget, might I suggest plucking out five days on either side of November 28, and consuming 200 fewer calories on each.
Then on Thanksgiving itself, you may proceed exactly as you were going to all along, without a moment of hesitation or guilt.
That’s what the holidays are all about. You can have your turkey and eat it, too.