Turkey, gravy, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, mac n’ cheese–it’s about time for that Thanksgiving food coma (and the guilt or anxiety that comes with it). While this feast-focused holiday is an endless parade of indulgences and carbs that will leave you sluggish for days, there is absolutely no reason to worry about what you eat on Thanksgiving (say it again for the people in the back!).
One meal (or a few, if you include leftovers) won’t affect you in the long-run, but the worry about it will. The more we relate food to anxiety and use labels like “good food” and “bad food,” the less we can listen to our bodies and enjoy special occasions (which is the point, after all). Rest assured, the fear-mongering around calories and holiday meals says more about our culture than it does about our bodies. In reality, our bodies are smart; they are meant to be resilient. So go ahead: savor every last bite of that turkey or pumpkin pie, totally guilt-free. Here are 10 things to do instead of worrying:
1. Redefine what a “healthy diet” means
We all think we have a pretty good idea of the definition of a healthy diet: lots of produce, clean protein, and limited additives, carbs, or sugar. Maybe your idea of a healthy diet is as specific as macronutrient percentages or caloric limits tracked on MyFitnessPal. But in reality, a healthy diet is much more flexible than a food pyramid graphic. A healthy diet looks different to every single person; it’s whatever honors what your body needs (including foods that you love), and it’s about making good choices with whatever is available. Enjoying pumpkin pie or buttery cornbread does not mean you “broke” a healthy diet; it simply means your healthy diet includes foods that feed your soul and honors special occasions.
2. Enjoy the real thing
Sure, cauliflower mash is a delicious alternative for mashed potatoes that has some extra nutrients and maybe fewer calories. But let’s be honest: cauliflower mash is not a classic Thanksgiving food. If you live for your mom’s mashed potatoes year-round (or you just don’t appreciate cauliflower posing as potatoes), then eat the real thing. It’s one meal, which won’t affect you any more than one healthy meal would change an unhealthy diet. If you’re cooking, you can experiment with plant-based versions of classic dishes so that you feel better, but when it’s a food you love or want to enjoy, eat the damn mashed potatoes.
3. Skip what you feel meh about
You already know to load up your plate with veggies that make you feel good and to indulge in the foods you love, totally guilt-free. But those dishes and foods you feel indifferent to? If they don’t excite you, skip them. For me, cranberry sauce and gravy are just so meh. I’d rather get extra sweet potatoes and cornbread, and forego the foods or toppings that aren’t exciting. If you could take or leave the dinner rolls, skip them so you have more room for veggies that will fill you up with nutrients or the foods you’re going to enjoy every bite of. There’s no Thanksgiving rule that states you have to eat turkey, stuffing, or green bean casserole, so if you don’t love it, don’t eat it. It will allow you to be more intuitive about what you’ll truly enjoy.
4. Know that nutrition is not just what’s on your plate
If you’re still under the impression that one meal (or a few holidays) can drastically affect your body long-term, you should also know that nutrition is not only the food we eat. The music we listen to, the people we spend our time with, the shows we binge on Netflix, the accounts we follow on Instagram are all things that feed us too. If you’re not as focused on the ways you’re being fed and nourished besides the food on your plate, you’re missing key pieces of the puzzle. You could completely stop caring about diet for a day and still have lots of opportunities to nourish yourself. Focus on these other areas instead of what you’re eating.
5. Add in extra nutrients
Perhaps you’re worried about what you eat because you feel sluggish for days after Thanksgiving, or a big decadent meal can leave you feeling sick. Instead of worrying about the aftermath during the meal, show your body love by treating it with the best before and after. Have at least two meals rich in protein, healthy fats, and fiber before dinner so that your blood sugar isn’t low and you’re not starving (it will help you from overeating and prevent that sluggish feeling). For the days after, add in extra leafy greens and a variety of produce that will give your body energy. Trust that your body can repair itself, when given half the chance.
6. Change the goal to be “fulfillment” instead of “perfection”
If your goal is to avoid the “bad foods” and stay “good” (whatever the hell that means), try changing how you think about the Thanksgiving meal. Instead, the goal should be to feel satisfied and fulfilled. Focusing on what you shouldn’t eat, whether in certain foods or quantities, means you’ll obsess over what you can’t have instead of enjoying the meal (it’s true for bad boys, and it’s true for pumpkin pie). Instead of vowing not to overeat or only eat certain foods, practice intuitive eating, and eat for the sake of fulfillment and satisfaction, not perfection. You’ll eat less and stop before you’re stuffed, but, more importantly, you’ll actually enjoy the meal.
7. Take care of yourself
One way to stress less during the holidays (and especially a food-heavy holiday like Thanksgiving) is to take care of yourself like you would every other day. Get lots of sleep the night before, go through the key pieces of your morning routine that make you feel your best before turning on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, take a bath or go for a walk if you find yourself stressed out during the day, and have a new face mask or luxurious pajamas to look forward to after the Thanksgiving feast is over. You know you should prioritize yourself 24/7, and a family holiday is no exception. Take care of yourself, and you won’t feel so out of control when it comes to food choices.
8. Unfollow or mute any account that’s posting “diet mistakes”
Is it just me, or is everyone else’s Instagram feeds flooded about “Thanksgiving diet mistakes,” hacks on how to slash calories from traditional holiday foods like Eggnog, or “pre-Thanksgiving” workouts to earn your food. (PSA: you do not need to earn your food–not on Thanksgiving, and not ever.) The preemptive goal with this “health” advice is to prevent holiday weight gain as if it’s something we need to nip in the bud. But this messaging is “damage control,” as if the holidays are inherently damaging. Honestly, we just don’t need that kind of negativity RN. Holiday traditions and happy family meals are worth so much more than a number on a scale, and we should unfollow or mute anything that tries to make us think otherwise.
9. Listen to your body’s cues
When I tell people to “listen to their bodies and eat what their bodies want,” they often tell me they would eat all the mac n’ cheese and pumpkin muffins insight, and not pick up one vegetable or “good-for-you” food. However, when you overeat until you’re stuffed or opt for only the foods that make you feel sluggish or sick but taste delicious, that’s only in response to ingrained food rules that make the “off-limits” food sound more enticing. When we’re really in tune to our bodies’ needs, we eat until we’re satisfied (not stuffed) and crave a mixture of energizing nutrients and less nutritious foods we’ll enjoy every bite of (rather than mindlessly gobble down). Listen to what your body wants and feed it accordingly (yes, it really is that simple).
10. Bottom line: If you’re thinking about what you’re eating, you’re wasting precious time
Listen, I’ve been there: you feel stressed out the day of, knowing it’s going to be a “bad” meal. You anxiously scan the buffet table, acknowledging what you shouldn’t eat or identifying the foods you know will make you feel guilty. As everyone sits down to eat, you’re comparing your plate to your siblings’ or cousins’ as if the way other people feed their bodies somehow gives meaning to the way you feed your body. For days after, you feel guilty about little things or add in an extra workout to counteract the calories. I’m exhausted after all of that–aren’t you!?
Yes, diet culture is so ingrained in us that it’s sometimes hard to ignore, and we all want to treat our bodies well. But all of that thought, energy, and mental capacity could have been used for other things. If you’re busy worrying about your food choices, you’re missing out on time with your family or the ability to feel gratitude (AKA the point of the holiday!). If you’re stressed about eating, it’s a sign that you’re too focused on yourself. Be more engaged in the conversations with your family or call up a friend to check-in if you’re spending the day alone. If all else fails, donate money to a food bank, and you’ll remember there are bigger problems you can spend your energy on than eating too much turkey.