A Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving

diet culture healthy holidays identity evolution Nov 23, 2021
sisters posing over Thanksgiving turkey

It’s that time of year: the holidays! And while the holidays can be absolutely magical, often people end up feeling kind of miserable during or after them.

Below are two different holiday scenarios: one is the Thanksgiving I used to have, the other is the Thanksgiving I now choose to have.

First scenario:

I wake up on Thanksgiving, hungover from going to the bars the night before (what up biggest bar night of the year?!). I drag myself to the Turkey Trot we have with our family friends. While this is intended to be an awesome tradition, I find some other hungover people and walk it with them instead of actually running, then eat a bunch of the pastries everyone brought for the post-Trot party while skipping over the veggie- and protein-filled options.

Feeling even worse from the pastries, I go home and nap before helping cook Thanksgiving dinner. I wake up from my nap and head upstairs, feeling pretty groggy and also a little grumpy. I end up getting annoyed with family members for something they say or do because of my bad mood. I help my mom and sister make Thanksgiving dinner, but insist on doing things my own way and end up getting underfoot. I'm still not satisfied because all I've eaten today are pastries, and I can feel my mom’s annoyance at my stubbornness, so I drink some more wine and pick at the food to banish any emerging emotions about it.

Dinner rolls around, and though I’m not even super hungry because of all the picking I’ve been doing, I load up my plate with everything, even the food I don’t even like that much – 'cause it’s Thanksgiving. Then of course, I get seconds, this time only putting my favorites on my plate. It’s Thanksgiving!

Then the pause between dinner and dessert occurs where we drink more wine and play games, but I feel absolutely terrible and find it hard to engage. Even when I do, I get snappy and impatient. My stomach is uncomfortably full, and I just want this feeling to be gone. So I drink more wine, which makes me even more snappy.

But then it’s time for dessert, and everyone else seems to have plenty of room left for more food. I definitely don’t, but it’s Thanksgiving, and I already feel terrible, so I do my best to shove some more pie into my mouth. Maybe that will make me feel better?

Finally, it’s time to go to bed. But my stomach is so full and I’m so uncomfortable that I don’t sleep well. I wake up the next morning feeling somehow even more hungover than the day before from the wine coupled with the amount of food I ate.

And of course, what’s Thanksgiving without leftovers??

I don’t go back to my normal eating, movement, or sleeping patterns because it’s a holiday break and there are leftovers and this kind of food only comes around once a year. Honestly, my patterns don’t ever go back to normal throughout the holiday season. So I continue to feel bad and tell myself I’ll revamp my life on New Year’s Day.

And maybe I will change my eating and workout routine for a few weeks in the new year, or maybe I won’t. But even if I do, it doesn’t last long. And I feel pretty crappy for a full month before that.

Wow, I feel emotionally depleted even writing that and realizing how much of that suffering was optional. This is how many of my Thanksgivings went in the past, and I’m not saying you’ve had the same experience. But maybe some of it resonates with you. If it does, know that you’re not alone, and that there are things you can do to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year – without being rigid or depriving yourself of the joy and celebration of the holidays.

Second Scenario:

Here is the Thanksgiving I intend to have from now on (admittedly, I will not actually be home on Thanksgiving this year, but I've implemented these strategies the past few years, and will also implement this year for the Friendsgiving Todd and I will be having):

I wake up on Thanksgiving, feeling good because I had 0-3 drinks last night and got to bed at a reasonable(ish) hour instead of staying up until 2 or 3am.

I go to the Turkey Trot and actually run the 5k, making me feel even better than before. I eat some of the delicious food made for the post-Trot party, but go for more plants and protein than sugary, dessert-like foods (though I do try some of my faves). I only eat as much as my body actually wants.

I go home and help make Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t place a lot of importance on the exact food I want to make because the holiday is so much more about being with the people I love than eating the food I want. The process of cooking goes a lot smoother because I’m not clinging to having everything go my way. Instead, I focus on connecting with the people with whom I’m sharing the experience of cooking. We listen to music, tell each other about our lives, and laugh about shared memories.

I drink some kombucha, coconut water, or sparkling water in a wine glass instead of wine (my new favorite thing to do so I can still feel like an adult), and I don’t pick at all the food because I’ve eaten enough substantial food at breakfast and I’m feeling calm and connected.

When dinner comes, I load up my plate with only the food I really want to eat (and yes, that includes stuffing and mashed potatoes). If I really feel a desire to try everything available, I take a bite of it before deciding if I actually want it on my plate. And instead of getting seconds just because “it’s Thanksgiving,” I check in with my body to see if I’ll actually enjoy any more bites of whatever I’m getting. If the answer is yes, I’ll take some more and enjoy every bite. If the answer is “I have to eat too much food because it’s what you do on Thanksgiving,” I don’t.

After dinner, I feel pretty full but not horribly uncomfortable, and I enjoy playing games and connecting with my family and whatever friends have come over. I feel a sense of gratitude for everything I’m blessed with, which is what I choose to focus on for this holiday.

For dessert, I take the pecan pie and skip the pumpkin, solely because I just don’t really like pumpkin as much. Maybe there’s also another dessert I want to try, and I take some of that too if I know I’ll really enjoy it. At the end of the night, I’m more full than I am on a normal night, but I don’t feel overstuffed. I feel happy and blessed, and am excited to spend more time with my family the rest of the weekend.

The next day, I maybe eat some of the leftovers (my sister and I always make sure to make more than enough stuffing to have left over), but I mostly go back to the food I normally eat, knowing that there will always be more Thanksgiving food and I’m not actually missing out on anything if I don’t eat the leftovers for days following.

I feel much better than the first scenario, and I actually get a workout in that day, the movement and oxygen making me feel even better. I’m able to get back to my regular healthy habits pretty quickly, and don’t feel completely derailed. I keep up those health habits through the rest of the year, and have a better holiday season for it. I also reflect on the New Year and make some intentions for it, but I don’t have to plan to completely overhaul my entire life for them.

In this second scenario, I haven’t missed out on any part of the holiday: I’ve simply been more intentional with how I navigate it, and what I choose to do to make me feel the best I can throughout it. I’ve consciously decided to eat what will feel good in my body, as well as eating some of the things I just want to eat regardless of how healthy they are. I’ve also decided to take care of myself in other ways, with movement, getting enough sleep, and not overeating/overdrinking. All of this took a little bit more forethought, but made for a much better experience of the holiday and beyond.

Do either of these scenarios resonate with you? Will you be making more conscious decisions this Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear about your intentional Thanksgiving plans in the comments!

Wishing you the happiest of holidays,


Want to find out which habit might make the biggest difference in your life? Take the Healthy Habits Quiz below to find out!

Healthy Habits Quiz

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