Thanksgiving indulgence

Here’s a quick quiz: When you hear the word “Thanksgiving”, what are the three words that most immediately come to mind?

For me, it’s “family”, “turkey” and “stuffed”.

The pervasive stereotype of Thanksgiving is of the clan gathered around the table, ready to sink their forks into a perfectly browned turkey and eat until they explode.

But if you look closely, you can see signs here and there suggesting this picture isn’t entirely accurate. LiveStrong.com released the findings today from the site’s 2010 user data about people’s holiday habits, and they’re rather surprising.

For starters, people are skipping the gravy and the whipped cream; more than three-fourths of the LiveStrong members opted against gravy and only 6 percent added whipped cream to their pumpkin pie.

Potatoes were still their favorite side dish, but about 25 percent chose sweet potatoes over traditional mashed potatoes.

Nine out of 10 preferred white turkey meat over dark.Their other holiday favorite: ham. Although most continued to roast their Thanksgiving turkey the traditional way, 5 percent had smoked or deep-fried turkey or Tofurky last year.

Pumpkin pie represented 70 percent of all pie consumed, but stand aside for clementines; LiveStrong members ate four times as many of these little citrus fruits during the 2010 holiday season as they did pumpkin pie.

Granted, this may be a rather skewed perspective, since the data reflect a sample group that was health-conscious to begin with. But it raises the question: Does Thanksgiving really deserve its reputation as a national occasion for overeating?

An interesting article at Helium.com suggests popular culture is at least as much to blame as individual behavior for the perpetuation of the “get stuffed” concept – for instance, Norman Rockwell’s famous 1943 cover for Life magazine depicting a happy family seated around the Thanksgiving table.

“The associations aren’t new,” writer Adele Gregory points out. “Throughout history feasting has been associated with friendship, generosity and success.”

But in 21st-century America, with its abundance of cheap food, the messages are often mixed, she writes. “Despite awareness of the obesity epidemic, today’s media contains just as many inducements to overeat as warnings.”

How many people genuinely overeat at the Thanksgiving table? The Book of Odds gives it a 1 in 2.17 chance that this will be you – but also notes that Thanksgiving stems from a harvest feast tradition and that humans may simply be programmed to eat more in this particular setting.

The best estimate I could find was that about 47 percent of Americans will overdo it on Thanksgiving. Another way of looking at this is that 53 percent – still the majority, although just barely – will eat with some restraint. It seems there’s plenty of room at the table to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in good company, without the guilt or turkey hangover that comes with eating too much.

For tips and resources on how to downsize the Thanksgiving meal without sacrificing the enjoyment, read more here and here.