National Eating Disorders Association

Thanksgiving Goodness Without the Guilt

Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD

Last week, my Pinterest account beckoned me with an alluring collection of pins under the heading, “Thanksgiving goodness without the guilt.” Featured were holiday “clean plates,” a virtual smorgasbord of vegan, raw, and gluten-free meals. 

Part and parcel with Thanksgiving is the inevitable diet talk that ensues. Often, it starts days or weeks before the holiday, as careful eaters strategize about how to conquer the feast with their diets intact. 

Every year, I hear group fitness instructors mention the need to “burn off” our Thanksgiving meal, and they do it to a chorus of knowing nods, guilty chuckles, and fired-up cheers. It happens the days after Thanksgiving and the winter holidays and often, following Halloween, Valentine’s Day, July 4th, and any other calendared events when Americans typically indulge.

Just this Halloween, my Facebook feed exploded with the meme, “You ate it - now negate it!” - posts that featured popular Halloween candies alongside their calorie contents and the amount of exercise required to burn them off. The message was clear - before enjoying that extra, bite-sized Kit Kat, you might want to consider those extra laps around the track. 

Positioning exercise as punishment for food intake is such a regrettable outcome for a health- and life-affirming behavior. Physical activity has the power to improve our moods and strengthen our bodies, but unfortunately, the most popular messages that circulate about fitness involve its power to undo our culinary transgressions. 

This mentality occurs both in those with clinical eating disorders and among the general public. We live in a noxious eating and body climate, making recovery - and even a holiday about gratitude - a struggle. 

Food is for nourishment and enjoyment, not calculation and compensation. That urge to cut back after a holiday meal, or overdo it with exercise, is a compulsion that, unchecked, can easily turn disordered. Want my recipe for a guilt-free Thanksgiving? 1) Eat food. 2) Focus on gratitude.  2) Choose not to feel guilty.

This year, experiment with something different. Enjoy your celebration. Give thanks for what you have. Savor your meal and let that be the end of it. No talk, however light-hearted, of needing to make amends or repair the damage. No counting calories, no promises for tomorrow, no penalties or remorse. Thanksgiving goodness without the guilt. Happy holiday.


Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who treats patients with eating disorders, anxiety/depression, substance use issues, and relationship difficulties. A certified group psychotherapist, she has worked at Columbia University Medical Center in NYC and at UCLA in Los Angeles and is a member of three eating disorder associations. The author of the highly- praised Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight, she is often interviewed by media outlets as an expert in the field.