Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Eating a Lot On Thanksgiving

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Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie—bring on the Thanksgiving food coma…and the accompanying guilt that can come with it. We totally get that this day of indulgence and the endless carbs can leave you feeling not so great about yourself come Friday, but here’s the thing: There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to have Thanksgiving food guilt. Don’t just take our word for it, though—we talked to a psychologist, trainer, and nutritionist, all of whom completely agree. Here’s why they say you should go ahead and enjoy yourself to the fullest during the biggest feast of the year.

There’s no need to fear food

If you get stressed thinking about the Thanksgiving spread, it may be a sign that your attitude toward food is slightly skewed. “Fearing food or feeling guilty about eating can be a sign of disordered thinking or an indication of disordered behavior,” explains psychologist and body image specialist Shari Fine Shepphird, PhD. “Guilt is a feeling that’s meant to indicate when we’ve done something wrong, but eating isn’t wrong.” Letting these feelings and concerns about food guide your whole approach to the day is unhealthy, she adds. If you feel like it’s hard to get this type of anxiety under control, you may want to re-evaluate your relationship with food on a larger scale.

You can easily balance it out

Slightly tweaking your pre- and post-Thanksgiving workouts and meals is a great way to feel like you can cut yourself some slack the day of. Michael Rochetto, a personal trainer in Chicago, recommends circuit training with weights the day before (or morning of) to get your metabolism going. “Unlike cardio, weight lifting burns calories not only during the workout, but for up to two days afterwards,” he explains. Focus on doing compound exercises—think a squat with a shoulder press—which work multiple muscle groups simultaneously and deliver both conditioning and cardio benefits. “You can get a full-body workout done in under an hour,” says Rochetto. On the diet side, try to limit carbs the day before and prior to the big meal, loading up on lean protein, healthy fats, and lots of veggies instead, suggests nutritionist Erik Marthaler, co-founder of Lateral Fitness. “This will keep your metabolism up and ready to take on that carb-heavy meal on Thanksgiving,” he says.

Get back on track on Friday

No, this doesn’t mean you need to spend all day at the gym, but do get moving. “One day off isn’t going to affect you, but just be careful not to let it turn into a mental spiral where you start telling yourself you’re now feeling too gross to exercise,” advises Rochetto. He suggests foam rolling first, to help warm up your muscles, then performing another weight-based circuit workout. If that’s not doable, even something as simple as taking a walk with your family will help you feel better if you’re on the sluggish side. Be sure to drink lots of water (hydration is important for good digestion), and if you’re still feeling full, eat smaller portions for the day.

Keep it all in perspective

Thanksgiving is one day of the year. One. Remembering that this is just a small drop in the bucket compared to all the other days and opportunities that you have to make food choices is one good way to keep your guilt in check. “It doesn’t have to throw off your healthy approach towards eating. One day isn’t going to destroy an otherwise healthy lifestyle,” points out Dr. Sheppird. And even if you are working towards a goal or weight, don’t worry: “If you’ve been eating well before Thanksgiving, then you’ll most likely burn off all those calories pretty quickly rather than storing them as fat,” explains Marthaler.

So go ahead, try all three types of pie, eat some extra mashed potatoes, and enjoy the late-night leftovers. We certainly will be.