How to Recover from a Thanksgiving Eating Binge—the Right Way

Updated: Nov. 25, 2020

Fitness and nutrition experts reveal how their tricks for getting back on track after a big Thanksgiving binge

Prep properly

The Thanksgiving meal is a marvel: According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans eat about 4,500 calories during a typical Thanksgiving meal—about 1,500 calories from snacking and 3,000 from the turkey and trimmings. But it’s a one-day event—you and your body can recover quickly with these tips.

People eating Thanksgiving dinner
Monkey Business Images/shutterstock

Don’t beat yourself up

Start by making sure you don’t feel guilty for indulging. “It’s Thanksgiving—you should enjoy yourself, guilt-free,” says Nathane Jackson, certified strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist, servicing clients from anywhere in the world through his online coaching programs. This is a time to connect with friends and family, not to get bogged down with anxieties over food choices, he says. “After all, it’s not what we eat on holidays that ultimately make us gain body fat; it’s our eating habits over the other 355-360 days of the year.” (Find out if your Thanksgiving turkey makes you sleepy, or if something else is to blame.)

plate after eating
July Prokopiv/Shutterstock

Don’t make it a multi-day food fest

With the long weekend following Thanksgiving, it may be easy to eat pies and treats the entire time. Hang on, says Lisa Garcia, RD, a dietitian with Food Coach, LLC in Laconia, New Hampshire. “One day is just a blip, but if you go four days making those kinds of choices, it’ll be harder to get back into a routine,” she says. “And if you didn’t have a routine, start on Friday.” Greg Robinson, a pro bodybuilder and owner of Retro Fitness of East Brunswick in New Jersey, agrees. “Allow yourself to enjoy some of the treats on this day—just don’t overindulge,” he says. “The mistake everyone makes is they think by having a treat or two, their diet is destroyed and they go on an all-out binge.” Don’t give up hope, Robinson says. “Your body will get back to its normal weight in a few days. The scale moved, but this is normal and due to the excess carbohydrates and salt you have consumed, which will pass.”And here are some tricks for managing holiday meal bloat.

Jenni Kupelian/Shutterstock

Plan ahead

Keep post-Thanksgiving day temptations at bay by planning your activity ahead. “Having a plan ahead of time helps cut some of this problem off at the pass,” says Elaine Howley, who knows something about commitment: As a marathon swimmer she was the first person to swim the 32.3-mile length of Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho and holds the record for the fastest 16-mile double crossing of Boston Harbor. “But it’s important to remain flexible if things change.” She says that if something comes up to derail a morning swimming pool workout, she’ll go later and swim by herself. When it comes to food choices, Garcia also says to plan well. Keep tempting items out of sight, she suggests, and instead put the fruit bowl out. “Make sure to stock the refrigerator and pantry with healthy choices to get on track the day after.”

Alena Haurylik/Shutterstock


Don’t short yourself on meals the next day, warns Garcia. Don’t attempt to undo a day of overindulging by starving yourself: She encourages people to eat breakfast the morning after, and oatmeal is a great choice, unflavored with your own healthy spices or fruits (not the prepackaged kind). She explains that it’s a whole-grain fiber that keeps you feeling fuller longer while keeping blood sugar from spiking. If you discover that you’re not too hungry the next day, Jackson suggests focusing on getting a little protein, vegetables, and leafy greens. “Protein helps keep you satiated while the vegetables and leafy greens supply most of your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and the extra fiber will help with bowel movements,” he explains. These are the 15 best and worst Thanksgiving foods for your weight.

Bojan Milinkov/Shutterstock

Get back on track immediately

The key to getting back on track post-Thanksgiving is doing so immediately. Start Friday, says Howley: Think of the Thanksgiving feast as your last indulgence before you get to the end of the year excesses. For Howley, this means working with her coach the next day during a 10,000-yard swimming workout so she can get right back in the swing of things. But your workout doesn’t need to be extensive; Howley believes the goal is to get back into your specific fitness routine the very next day to put all that extra calorie consumption to good use.

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Don’t succumb to the food court on Black Friday

Just because you’re in the mall on Friday doesn’t mean you have to eat at the food court. Try bringing fresh fruit with you to snack on until you get home. In particular, Garcia says to choose apples, pears, and clementines, which are ideal for their ability to help satisfy a sweet tooth, keep you actively chewing and create feelings of fullness. She recommends eating these healthier foods Friday through Sunday (and any time of the year, for that matter) to stay on track.


Get rid of leftovers

If you’re hosting, says Robinson, pack a doggy bag for all your guests. On the other hand, if you’re at someone else’s home, politely decline any leftovers your host might offer. Just don’t be wasteful—here are 20 recipe ideas for those Thanksgiving leftovers.


Drink up

“Water, water, water,” says Garcia. Thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, she notes, and it can be difficult to tell the difference during the busy holiday season. Always keep water on hand. It’ll keep you hydrated, and it will help keep food temptations at bay. Also, consider clementines, she says, which are healthy and packed with moisture. “Water plays an important role in digestion as well as helping the body achieve homeostasis,” Jackson says. He also recommends teas; flavors like chicory or chamomile help support digestion. This is what your favorite Thanksgiving dish says about you.


Go easy on your workouts

Don’t overdo it at the gym Thanksgiving weekend: “Do not ramp up extra cardio or hours in the gym prior, during, or after Thanksgiving,” Robinson says. “One day off doesn’t derail your fitness goals or body fat.” Ramping up weights and spending hours more working out isn’t beneficial, he warns, and you could be flirting with an injury. “Keep your gym time and routine as normal as possible and your body will take care of the rest—as long as you return back to normal caloric intake the next day,” he suggests.

Jackson adds that exercise helps the body use up extra nutrients floating around the body, but also warns against going overboard. “Whichever form of exercise you prefer will do just fine,” he says. “Even a good brisk walk will help stimulate digestion.”

Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Ignore calorie-burn graphics

You’ve no doubt come across infographics telling you how long you need to exercise to burn the extra calories you’ve taken in: Ignore them, Robinson says, adding that they’re completely misleading and only “reinforce the good food/bad food guilt epidemic.” The truth is, you burn calories throughout the day, regardless of exercising or not. “It’s called your basal metabolic rate (BMR),” he says. “This is the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest to keep vital functions going, such as breathing and keeping warm,” he explains Next up, learn the 31 clever ways to avoid holiday weight gain.