Not Your Ordinary Thanksgiving

Get ready to pile on the calories this Thanksgiving, America.

During the last decade, health-conscious consumers have tended to skip the ice cream on Mom's pumpkin pie or use low fat ingredients to cut calories.

But experts say this year will be different.

After the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Americans are turning away from diets and substitutes that lack taste to fill their plates with foods that make them feel good.

“People won't be as conscious of the health aspects of eating as they were in prior years, mostly because of what happened in September,” said Althea Zanecosky, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Experts say the events of September and subsequent changes to the American lifestyle, have caused many people to turn to so-called comfort foods to reduce their high stress levels.

Comfort foods vary from person to person, but they often evoke childhood memories that remind people of the security they felt when they were young. For many eaters, food serves as a means of instant gratification that soothes unpleasant emotions.

— “There are few things that are as readily available and instantly gratifying as food,” said Keith Ayoob, a dietitian and associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Consider that the average person consumes between 2,000 calories and 2,500 calories each day. Researchers estimate that once Thanksgiving Day is over, the average American will have gobbled down some 4,000 calories.

It doesn't take long for two beers (180 calories), eight crackers with cheese (370 calories), six ounces of turkey (300 calories), two rolls with butter (340 calories), two handfuls of nuts (260 calories) and a slice of pumpkin pie with ice cream (450 calories) before you're loosening your belt.

Edward Abramson, a clinical psychologist and author of “Emotional Eating,” said social pressure also plays a major role in dictating eating habits on Thanksgiving.

People expect each other to sample a bit of everything on the table, and in many cases to go back for seconds, he said. With families gathered and food crowding the table, it is no wonder that people find it hard to resist the extra helpings.

“Thanksgiving is basically a socially sanctioned activity to overeat,” said Abramson. “If you didn't sample all of Aunt Martha's seven side dishes, that would be a social no-no.”

But for those who want to try, dietitians say there are ways to minimize the traditional Thanksgiving Day binge. Calorie content can be reduced by using low-fat ingredients, draining fat from the turkey, or setting food portion limits and sticking to them.

The temptation to overeat can be reduced by eating lighter meals earlier in the day. A short walk after dinner rather than heading straight for the television will also help burn off a few calories.

“If you have favorie foods, I advise people to eat them,” said Ayoob. “But with a little planning ... we can allow ourselves to eat the foods we like, but in the quantities that don't send us out of control.”

Written By CHRISTOPHER DOERING © MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Reuters Limited contributed to this report