So the leftover turkey is in the fridge, the recycling bin is full of empty wine bottles, and the idea of a Thanksgiving detox sounds tempting, especially since you’re planning to be in sweatpants for the next 48 hours because pants that button sound implausible. Welcome to the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as the day of painful bloating, undeniable sluggishness, and mild (or extreme) regret. We’ve all fallen victim to exclaiming “I can never eat again!” after Thanksgiving dinner or feeling lethargic and regretful for days after.
It’s no surprise that the Thanksgiving detox is a popular trend following the holiday (if you’ve never heard of it, Google to find hundreds of hits). Juice cleanses boom, workout classes skyrocket, and guilt-ridden dieters download MyFitnessPal and eat salad for lunch as a means of atoning for their sins. But no matter what you eat on Thanksgiving (or how much of it), a Thanksgiving detox is unnecessary (and might even be damaging). Read on for reasons you don’t need to cleanse or detox after overeating pumpkin pie and six things you should do instead if you are feeling uncomfortably full and sluggish the next day.
Why you don’t need a Thanksgiving detox
The body repairs itself
No matter how many calories you ate (or how many servings of mashed potatoes you devoured), the body processes and digests all of it. Everything from the saliva in the mouth to the enzymes in the stomach is meant to digest food, get the nourishment it needs from that food, and then get rid of excess through waste (gross, but true). Yes, this is anatomy 101, but it’s important to keep in mind that the body is built to repair itself. Your body will digest all that sweet potato casserole and snickerdoodles on its own, whether or not you try to help it the next day. Likewise, you don’t need juice cleanses to “flush out toxins;” it’s the body’s job to detoxify, so the liver, colon, and kidney have got you covered. Bottom line: The body repairs on its own, and it doesn’t need cleanses or detoxes to get the job done.
A healthy diet should include indulgences
Maybe your idea of a healthy diet is specific macronutrient percentages or maybe it’s more about what you’re not eating (no sugar, no gluten, no refined carbs, etc.). There’s a lot of confusion, uncertainty, and debate about what a “healthy diet” really means. In reality, 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 intuitive choices with whatever is available. Enjoying cornbread or pecan pie does not mean you “broke” a healthy diet; it simply means your healthy diet includes foods that feed your soul and honor special occasions.
Nutrition is more than just what’s on your plate
If you believe the false narrative that the body needs a detox to help it get back to “healthy” after one meal, you should also know that nutrition is not just about food. Yes, fruits and vegetables nourish the body, but so do the people we spend our time with, the music we listen to, and what we see when we scroll through Instagram. Leafy greens and lean proteins are important, but how we spend our time and who we make time for feed us too. If you’re not also focused on the ways you’re being nourished besides through the food on your plate, you’re missing key pieces of the puzzle. Keep your stress levels down, regularly indulge in activities you love, and surround yourself with people who make you happy, and your body will respond accordingly.
How to care for your body instead:
1. Listen to your body during the meal
Instead of attempting to “atone for your sins” after a mindless binge starting at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, keep up healthy habits and listen to your body so you don’t feel regret at all. Before each serving or course, check in with yourself to identify what your body really wants. Maybe you’re not hungry, but you would enjoy every bite of a slice of pumpkin pie because it’s your favorite holiday dessert, or maybe you realize your digestion is feeling off and you haven’t had enough veggies with your meal–both are equally great reasons to eat more food. Also, notice when you start feeling satisfied and are no longer enjoying each bite to know when to stop instead of mindlessly eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Aim for a balance of favorite holiday foods and nutrients that will make your body feel good, and eat mindfully so you can stop when you’re satisfied.
2. Stretch and (gently) move the body
Please do not attempt a two-hour HIIT class first thing Friday morning as a means to “erase” or “make up for” what you ate the night before. First of all, that’s not how the body works, but it’s also unnecessary. Go on a jog or work out if it makes you feel better and your body is craving movement, but if you’re feeling sluggish and lethargic like the rest of us after Thanksgiving, try going on a walk and doing some stretches to relax the body. Movement, no matter how low-impact, can boost energy, motivation, and mental health, which is especially important if you’re feeling that post-feast food guilt.
3. Drink a lot of water
Water seems to be the cure-all for everything, and with good reason. Staying hydrated can improve energy levels, relieve digestive discomfort like constipation, and overall help you feel your best. Especially if you’re feeling hungover (whether it’s a food hangover or a cider punch hangover), drink lots of water to ensure your body stays hydrated so that it can do all that repairing it’s meant to do. If you want to be #extra like me, I always start the morning with warm lemon water and a little ginger whenever I eat a lot the night before and my digestive system feels off. If it’s hard for you to remember to drink water (or you’re an overachiever and want an additional challenge), try an herbal tea like peppermint, which can ease indigestion or painful bloating.
4. Add in extra veggies
A “detox” or “cleanse” implies that you’re subtracting and streamlining your diet. Instead, you should really be thinking about how to add more nutrients to give your body what it needs to get energy and help with digestion. Vegetables are loaded with good-for-the-gut fiber and immune-boosting antioxidants that help your body stay healthy. No matter what you feel like eating for the next few days, focus on incorporating even more veggies with each meal. Have a side salad or add spinach to your omelet, get all the steamed veggie sides when ordering out, and try a green juice or veggie-packed smoothie for an afternoon snack as an added boost.
5. Take a nap
Good news: The ultimate lazy-girl activity is healthy and a great way to help your body recover from Thanksgiving indulgences. As another example of the body repairing itself and DIY detoxing, sleep is a crucial time when the brain can cleanse itself (according to a 2013 study). A 2019 study also noted that sleep may be the key to detoxing our brains, AKA this news is the best thing that happened to the day after Thanksgiving since the leftover turkey sandwich was invented. So if you’re feeling lethargic and don’t want to get off the couch all day, don’t force yourself to work out or be productive. Give the body time to restore and repair by getting a full seven to nine hours of sleep at night and taking a nap if your body is feeling tired during the day.
6. Indulge in some self-care
Whether the way you best care for yourself looks more like 20 minutes of meditation, dry brushing before a steaming hot shower, or approximately five different face masks, spend some extra time making yourself feel pampered and cared for the day after Thanksgiving. Not only will a little extra TLC help you feel physically better from that food coma, but it can also help ease the stress from any food guilt. Remember that stress and guilt after eating are worse for your body than pumpkin pie or green bean casserole could ever be, so prioritize self-love if you’re feeling the regret kick in. Try taking a bath, reading a book that makes you happy, DIYing a spa day, or staring in the mirror and giving compliments to remind yourself that one meal (or any meal) doesn’t change how worthy you are. Detox your thoughts; your body’s already got you covered.