Should You Exercise on a Holiday or Not?

do you need to exercise on thanksgiving

Something that shouldn’t be so complicated, but takes up way too much brain space for many Americans is decisions to be physically active on big holidays. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or your birthday, we unfortunately grow up in (and continue to live in) a culture that teaches us that we need to earn our celebratory meals. Over here I’m all about ditching the diet mentality, deleting the food tracking app, and embracing the foods you love. I’m also all about a good sweat session, too, though. So, should you exercise on a holiday or not?

It’s Okay to Enjoy Whatever Food You Want

Whether you already have a well-balanced eating pattern, are working on incorporating more nutrient rich whole foods, or improving eating patterns isn’t a focus for you right now, you deserve to eat foods that you like. This is especially true on a holiday. Even if you didn’t eat a serving of produce yesterday, you can still have stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie today. Not only CAN you, but you should… and you should enjoy every bite (until you’re satisfied) without any guilt.

Unfortunately, the diet talk surrounding the holiday season in the media gets everyone amped up and anxious for a single meal. A SINGLE MEAL! My friend and fellow dietitian, Chelsey Amer, did the math for us. One meal is .09% of the meals you eat in a year. It’s even less of the eating experiences you have in a year if you’re eating snacks between meals (I hope you are).

Thanksgiving is 0.09% of the meals you eat in a year. Don’t overthink it.

-Chelsey Amer MS, RDN

Okay – so if you celebrate the same holidays as me, you’re looking at 2-4 meals. Let’s say Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Years Eve are abnormal. That’s still only 0.32% of the meals you eat in a year. And your body is pretty cool. It knows when it’s had enough.

Your Body Will Get Back to “Normal”

Without “trying to make up for” everything you ate the day (or week) before, your body wants to get back to it’s set point (the weight you are meant to be at genetically). You may notice each year that you get to that point that you’re SO over holiday cookies and just want a big bowl of veggies without the thought of wine and dessert. Or, on January 1, you force a juice cleanse or start calorie counting only to have your body want to binge by the end of the week. In both cases, that’s your body telling trying to get back to your normal.

This is something it’s trying to do for you on a daily basis, not just over the holidays. So, when you restrict, it craves extra food. If you eat a lot of extra food, it wants to eat a bit lighter and maybe move a little bit more. Sure, all that to say it’s easier to listen to your body* and actually do those things when you eat more mindfully and are regularly active. But these are just extra reasons to embrace the idea of intuitive eating on a regular basis, as well as on a holiday.

*While some medical conditions and food intolerances may require more help in reaching your set point (higher or lower than your current weight), intuitive eating is very nuanced and can work with medical nutrition therapy.

But Aunt Sally Will Judge Me

Who cares what Aunt Sally thinks, anyway?! Okay, I know it isn’t that easy, especially in the beginning. But, you have to start making food and fitness decisions for YOU, not based on how your family may react to your choices. You may have to deal with a lot of weight and diet talk at family gatherings – it stresses me out to hear these conversations and I live in a smaller body. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for anyone living in a larger body.

“Remember, no one, except for you, knows how you feel, both emotionally and physically. Only you can be the expert of your body, which requires inner attunement, rather than the external, well-meaning, suggestions from family.”

-Evelyn Tribole MS, RD

No matter what your body size or athletic ability, food doesn’t have a moral value, and neither does your fitness level or your weight. Your body size does not in any way, shape or form, dictate your value as a human being. Your level of fitness and decisions to pursue health or not have nothing to do with your value as a human being. Remember that. Know that you can choose to remove yourself from weight based conversations and stick up for yourself (and others) if the conversation somehow winds up on you (or them). This time of year, I always like to share the Intuitive Eater’s Bill of Rights any chance I get:

  • You have the right to savor your meal, without cajoling or judgment, and without discussion of calories eaten or the amount of exercise needed to burn off said calories.
  • You have the right to enjoy second servings without apology.
  • You have the right to honor your fullness, even if that means saying “no thank you” to dessert or a second helping of food.
  • It is not your responsibility to make someone happy by overeating, even if it took hours to prepare a specialty holiday dish.
  • You have the right to say, “No thank you,” without explanation, when offered more food.
  • You have the right to stick to your original answer of “no”, even if you are asked multiple times. Just calmly and politely repeat “No, thank you, really.”
  • You have the right to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast.

“Remember, no one, except for you, knows how you feel, both emotionally and physically. Only you can be the expert of your body, which requires inner attunement, rather than the external, well-meaning, suggestions from family.” -Evelyn Tribole MS, RD

So, Should You Exercise on a Holiday or Not?

By now, you may already have made your decision. You may or may not know if you’ll be exercising on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, your daughter’s Christening, a family reunion or any other day. Reading the above may have helped you say “I’m done letting Aunt Sally make me feel I need to earn my food”. Or maybe it had you thinking “Ugh, Aunt Sally stresses me out, I need some alone time to destress before, I’m going to do some yoga.”

Should you exercise on a holiday? Or any day? The answer lies in your intentions for movement.

For me, I choose to exercise on holidays based on what else is going on that day. If I wake up at my parents or in-laws, there’s too much down time for me and I’ll get anxious sitting around with everyone without some alone time and a good endorphin release. This year, we’re going to be driving from my parent’s to my sister in-law’s on Thanksgiving morning, so I’ll probably just opt for 10 minutes of yoga before we leave. I don’t think I have ever chosen to do formal exercise on Christmas, other than a walk after dinner with Tim and his parents. Whatever you choose to do, do it for you.

Holiday Fitness Resources

If you’re like me and need to blow off a little steam either before or after family or your to-do list has gotten under your skin, here are some resources for workouts on the go.

should you exercise on christmas?

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