You'll Eat 4,500 Calories on Thanksgiving -- But It's Not Your Fault

How your surroundings conspire against your diet

Did you know that, by the time the last piece of pumpkin pie is devoured, the average American chows down on 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during the Thanksgiving feast? Yikes! Thanks, Calorie Control Council for calculating that number for us and sucking all the joy out of what would otherwise be the happiest day of the year.

But before you go lambasting yourself for being a horrible, gluttonous, no-good piece of lard who can’t fit into her favorite jeans, you should know something else: It’s not your fault!

No, really, it’s not your fault. (Here, reader should envision the uncomfortable Good Will Hunting scene between Matt Damon and Robin Williams so that we can avoid telling you 12 more times that, really, it’s not your fault).

But, no, it’s not your parents’ fault, either.

Turns out, there are powerful environmental cues that take aim at our willpower every day – without our even knowing it! -- trying to sabotage our best dieting intentions. Just in time for Thanksgiving, a new study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, found that what and how much we eat isn’t entirely up to us, because these cues play mind games that totally warp our sense of judgment. No fair!

But if you don't want to stuff yourself like a turkey, here’s how to reclaim your mind -- and your diet:

Say no to super sizes. Whether you know it or not, you’re a member of the clean-plate club. People eat what they see -- the more food that’s put in front of them, either on the table or on their plate, the more they will eat. So if your mother-in-law has a heavy hand when it comes to serving dinner, take the reins and do it yourself. Use this guide for controlling your portions.

Variety is the spice of life. And the reason why your waistline is increasing. The more flavors you have available to you, the more you will eat, say the Cornell University nutritionists. You might be full, but you still want one more bite of this, and one more bite of that, and, oops, I forgot to try that… you get the drift. Since every bite contains an average of 25 calories, you can see how quickly it adds up. Instead of taking a little bit of everything at the dessert table, choose only your favorite.

We lied. Your tendency to overeat is your family’s fault. According to the study, dining with a group of people makes us eat an average of 150 more calories per sitting. Not that we would recommend reserving a table for one at your family’s feast. Instead, choose your neighbors wisely. Other research shows that self-control -- or lack thereof -- is contagious. So sit closest to those with the least gluttonous eating habits and model your plate after theirs.

See, don’t you feel better knowing that your willpower isn’t as weak as you thought? It’s just that everything else in the world is out to conspire against you and your physique on the holidays. Not that this absolves you from all dieting sins, should you, I don’t know, decide to hide in the closet with the pumpkin-cranberry cheesecake until you’ve licked the platter clean. We do have to take some responsibility for our actions. But, when you’re able to identify the diet saboteurs lurking nearby, you can fortify your resolve and be more mindful of what goes into your mouth. And if all else fails, and you eat way more than you planned, seriously, don’t sweat it too much. It’s a day to be grateful for what you have, extra pounds and all. You can always work it off tomorrow.

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