I’m going to tell you something you probably don’t expect to hear from a personal trainer, but it’s time somebody told you the truth:

Thanksgiving does not have to be a big deal for your fitness goals.

No matter how many sugary, starchy, fatty, or high-calorie foods you consume, it’s JUST. ONE. DAY. Though studies suggest that the average person consumes about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving (between the hearty evening meal, lots of appetizers and lots little snacks throughout the day), even if your body stored ALL of those as fat tissue, at best it would amount to gaining less than ONE POUND.

One pound, that’s it!

If the idea of gaining a single pound stresses you out, then your MINDSET is likely a much bigger issue than your BODY COMPOSITION. 

Oh, and by the way, if you’re looking to put on muscle (which gives your body definition and an appealing shape) eating a bit more every once in awhile is a GOOD thing for your goals!

The good news is, you don’t need recipes for a 500-calorie Thanksgiving “feast”, and you especially don’t need a dozen ways to burn an utterly insignificant number of calories while doing everyday activities. (“Unloading a car burns 36 calories in 10 minutes! Sign me up!” said no one ever.)

Now if you have a serious medical issue that makes overindulgence dangerous for you, please, try to limit yourself at the holiday table. If you’re diabetic for instance, take it easy on the sugar. If you’re an elite athlete getting ready for competition, you may need need to keep to the turkey and veggies on your plate. That’s great, and I support your steadfastness.

What I really want to convey with all this is essentially that pumpkin pie is not a “healthy substitute” for pecan pie if you don’t like pumpkin pie. You don’t have to stuff yourself to bursting either, but don’t let those calorie-counting quacks convince you that you can’t enjoy anything on the Thanksgiving table without first looking it up in My Fitness Pal. Ok?

Just have a bit of what you actually like, don’t stress about missing a day or two of your workouts to enjoy time with your friends and family instead. As my mom says, “It all comes out in the wash.” 

And by the way, I’m not saying you should blow off the possibility of eating healthily all winter, but just consider this: there are really only 3-4 big days in what we refer to as “the holidays” (a few more or less depending on which faith you practice, if any). 

The oft-cited stat that many folks gain 7-10 pounds of fat over the holidays is now contested. But whatever it amounts to, holiday weight gain does not come from having a few treats on the biggest days. That weight creep is caused by the insidious habit of having a mindset of learned helplessness about the holidays. This is where you tell yourself, “I’m just not going to think about my health and fitness until January. There’s no point– I’d just fall off the wagon anyway.”

In fact, you CAN stay on track during the holidays. Here are a few ways to win back the ability to TRUST YOURSELF to honor your health during the hectic holiday season:

1) Act “as if”. The first step in regaining trust is pretending that you already have it. Schedule your workouts as you usually would instead of “planning” to miss them.

2) Pick your battles. Perhaps you really enjoy having a few drinks and slices of pie at holiday parties. Fine. Then look ahead and decide which events will feature a “cheat meal” (and which will not) and let go of your feelings about it. It’s okay to be off-plan, as long as it’s planned for 😉 

3) Recruit a team to help you keep accountable. Test your assumption that you need to wait until the holidays are over to work on your fitness. Join a gym, get a coach, or recruit a workout buddy in the thick of the holiday season! Not only will it help you be more consistent with your workouts and nutrition, but you’ll be glowing with vitality at all those holiday parties instead of sleeping in the corner in a coma of tryptophan and hot toddies. (Oh, and did I mention that working out is a great way to relieve stress so you don’t blow up on the next relative that asks when you’re going to get a “real job”? Sweating a bit does wonders for the ability handle pressure gracefully.)

That’s it. Trust yourself, plan for success, and ask for help when you need it. That’s all you need to do to make it to January without stressing-out your health.

So toss out the recipe for low-calorie cranberry sauce and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Coach Emily


Emily is the owner of Bold & Badass Fitness, as well as one of the gym's coaches. She is passionate about social justice, powerlifting, science-fiction, and her chirpy calico cat, Koshka.

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