November 20, 2012
The commonly cited statistic is that the average American will consume more than 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day alone. That’s according to the Calorie Control Council, which represents the people who bring you diet foods. After thinking about how much 4,500 calories really is, I was skeptical of the claim. I decided to create a gluttonous Thanksgiving feast of traditional foods and count the calories along the way (with the help of several online calorie counters). Here’s what I found.
Let’s start piling our plate with a generous 6-ounce serving of turkey, with the skin of course. Since dark meat has more calories, we’ll go with 4 ounces of dark meat (206 calories) and 2 ounces of white meat (93 calories). Did I mention we’re eating the crispy skin? Don’t forget the stuffing. I picked a not-so-healthy sausage stuffing (310 calories). Since it’s a holiday, let’s throw caution to the wind and eat lots of starchy, buttery foods. A dinner roll with butter (310 calories) plus two kinds of potatoes – a big serving of mashed sweet-potato casserole made with butter, brown sugar and topped with marshmallows (divide your casserole dish into 8 servings and it will be 300 calories each) plus a half-cup of mashed potatoes with butter and gravy (140 calories).
You’re not getting full are you? Let’s add 2/3 cup green bean casserole (110 calories), a dollop of cranberry sauce (about 15 calories), and roasted brussels sprouts because our mother made us eat them (83 calories). And since we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, we’ll take one slice each of pumpkin pie (316 calories) and pecan pie (503 calories) with generous dollops of homemade whipped cream on each slice (100 calories).
O.K., now I feel sick. How much have I eaten? The grand total is: 2,486 calories.
The point is I had to work pretty hard to finding enough servings of fat-laden, sugary foods to get to about 2,500 calories. Throw in a few glasses of wine, breakfast and some snacks and it’s certainly possible to binge your way to 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day, but I’m not convinced it’s as common as the diet food companies would like us to believe.
For one thing most people would have a hard time eating that much. After about 1,500 calories in one sitting, the gut releases a hormone that causes nausea. Average stomach capacity is about 8 cups, although it can range from 4 to 12.
The average meal takes 1 to 3 hours to leave the stomach. But a large meal can take 8 to 12 hours, depending on the quantity and fat content. Eating too much can lead to indigestion (painful) and flatulence (you probably won’t be invited back). Another reason to pace yourself and avoid a gluttonous binge is that big meals can raise the risk for heart attack, blood clots and gallbladder problems and make you a dangerous, drowsy driver on the way home.