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November 20, 2018

Here's what eating a huge Thanksgiving meal does to your body, according to experts

TLDR: don't worry about it

Healthy Eating Thanksgiving

A big meal isn't all that harmful to your healthy eating goals — once a year, at least.

Thanksgiving is known for many things,  but for most a gluttonous meal filled with turkey, mashed potatoes and all sorts of sweets easily tops the list.

But what does eating a huge meal actually do to your body, aside from making you feel bloated for a few hours? Can you gain tons of weight from one meal? Do you have to start over on your healthy eating goals after one big meal?

Most experts agree that if you only overeat once a year, don’t worry about it.

As for the short-term effects on your body, here's what to expect:

The first big thing is your stomach expanding to make room for all the food you just put in it, and that’s why you begin to feel bloated and generally uncomfortable, one expert told TIME:

When you consume lots of food, your stomach has to physically expand to accommodate the additional volume, potentially leading to some discomfort, says Dr. Stephen Juraschek, an internist and primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. When that meal includes lots of starchy dishes, like those in a typical Thanksgiving spread, your body also experiences a sudden spike in blood sugar as carbohydrates are converted into glucose, Juraschek says. Cholesterol markers, blood pressure and fluid retention may also increase as your body processes fats and salt, he adds.

All of those issues typically subside in a few hours for folks without any major health. But people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, should more carefully monitor their intake.

RELATED READ: This cauliflower chicken pot pie sounds like the perfect Sunday dinner

Plus, eating a large meal means your digestive system is working overtime – and that takes extra energy, which results in that groggy feeling that follows the big meal, a registered dietitian told TIME. (That sleeping feeling is often blamed on a chemical in the turkey.)

Obviously, healthy versions of holiday classics and portion control would negate the need for any sort of worry. Among tips recommended by TIME: resist the urge to skip breakfast, which could kickstart your metabolism, and take a stroll after dinner to burn a few of those calories.

Oh, and if you're still looking for a healthy addition to your Thanksgiving table, here are five healthier versions of holiday classics including pie, bread and mashed potatoes. 

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