How to Recover from a Thanksgiving Binge

Hannah Burkhalter, MS, RD
Cooking Light
How to Recover from a Thanksgiving Binge

“Thanksgiving full” is hardly comparable to day-to-day “full.”  A traditional Thanksgiving meal can pack in around 3,000 calories, which is a day-and-half’s worth of calories for some, in just one sitting. As wonderful and joyous as a Thanksgiving feast is, it can leave you feeling stuffed and sluggish. Rather than attempting to compensate for overeating by withholding food or exercising intensely, achieve a steady “recovery” by simply practicing healthy, sustainable habits.

Form a positive mindset.

Whether it’s been 5 minutes since your big meal or it’s the day after Thanksgiving, the most important thing is to get your mind right. You enjoyed Thanksgiving! Do not associate holiday celebrations with food guilt. One day of overeating (the best kind, but overeating nonetheless) will not blow your current health and fitness goals. Go into the next few days with a positive mindset around food to prevent emotional eating and distorted eating patterns. 

Stay hydrated.

You’ve heard it before, but that is because your hydration status can make all of the difference in terms of food choices. By the time you feel strong thirst, you are past the point of needing a quick drink. It’s common for the earliest signs and feelings of thirst to be confused with hunger. Before reaching for food, because food does provide water when metabolized, drink water. Better yet, drink water throughout the day so that you can ensure that you are meeting your body’s water needs.

Eat balanced meals and snacks.

A balanced meal or snack is one that contains all three macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) provided by clean, whole foods. Some easy, tangible guidelines include:

  • Make half of your plate vegetables.
  • Keep your snacks simple and smaller than a meal (in terms of calories).
  • Aim for majority plant-based or lean animal protein sources.
  • Avoid cooking methods that require excess fat and sodium or that apply prolonged, high heat to veggies, like deep frying, cream-based casseroles, or boiling broccoli.

Look through our Healthy Weeknight Dinner series, or follow our Sunday Strategist, where new recipes are collected and planned for you each week.

Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity daily.

If this is not something that you normally do, start with going for a walk or light jog the afternoon of or morning after Thanksgiving. Exercise doesn’t have to be hardcore, 6 a.m. gym time to count. Exercise will help your body get back on track, and you will feel more energized.

If you want to ensure active progress, keep a wellness journal.

Studies show that people eat better when they write down what they eat. A wellness journal allows you to see current habits and trends in terms of food and exercise. This serves as a way to keep yourself accountable, and it will help you be more aware of what you are eating. It is important to remember to record estimated portion sizes and time spent exercising. If you aren’t much of writer, try just keeping a running note on your phone, taking photos, or downloading an app.

The main take away is that, yes, you most likely consumed more than your body needed at your annual Thanksgiving dinner, but that also didn’t destroy your weight-loss or health-related goals. One day of Thanksgiving-style eating doesn’t make you unhealthy, just like one day of eating “perfectly” doesn’t make you healthy. Jump back into a positive routine and your body will recover from all of that turkey.