5 Ways to Help Yourself if You Overate on Thanksgiving

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Maybe you’re waking up the day after Thanksgiving full of regret, guilt, and shame. Did you overeat to a point of uncomfortable fullness? Are you feeling bad about everything you ate or embarrassed for overdoing it with the food?

If so, please know that you are not alone. The day after a big holiday meal of overeating can make you feel physically sluggish and emotionally drained. You might feel numb with regret and ready to check out from reality for the next few days until you’re able to achieve some sense of normalcy.

Maybe you’re already running through a list of “should-haves” or ways that you plan to compensate for everything you ate the night before. This might include punishing yourself with exercise, eating next to nothing for the next couple days, and swearing off any holiday festivities. Maybe you’re already planning your New Year’s resolution that includes some kind of diet intended to wipe the slate clean and lose all the weight.  

Before you wander down that rabbit hole, let me give you some gentle encouragement. Doing all the things that supposedly help your body “reset” from overeating at one meal actually cause more harm than good.

It may feel like you’re able to compensate for all the holiday eating, but in reality, your forcing your body into a confusing state that makes it harder for it to recover. 

So when you find yourself in a post-holiday downward spiral, be intentional about setting yourself on a new course. You’ll feel much better, physically, emotionally, and mentally, in the long run and better able to keep food in its proper place (so you can focus on what’s most important to you).

Here are some tips to help you survive an eating holiday hangover:

1 Be kind to yourself

Overeating may be a trigger for some ugly self-talk and criticisms but nip it in the bud as soon as you recognize it. Those negative thoughts that start creeping in aren’t going to do anything to help you feel better. In fact, these judgmental criticisms will only flame the fire and make things worse. When those thoughts come into play, be ready to challenge them and counter with something kinder. Recognize that you are only human, and overdoing it at one meal doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure. You can take the lessons you learned from this experience to help you in the future.

2. Sat off the scale

You may have an urge to “assess the damage” by stepping on the scale, but this can offset you for days to come. Break the habit of measuring whether you had a good or bad day based on the number the scale tells you. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate within a range depending on a variety of different factors. Don’t be a slave to your scale any longer. In fact, give yourself a gift by tossing the damn thing out. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

3. Get back to regular meals and hydration

The post-holiday hangover might insinuate that you don’t need to eat for the rest of the day (or week), but this notion is completely bogus. If you are a living, breathing human being, you have to eat - no exceptions. Your body requires fuel in the form of food to function and survive, and when you don’t eat, consequences ensue. Your body will work much better when you give it the nutrition it needs and prevent extreme forms of eating. Dieting, restricting, or cutting out meals might seem like a solution, but this will make you more likely to overeat later. Stop the cycle and get back to eating regular meals. Listen to your body and pay attention to the foods and amounts you are needing to feel satisfied.

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4. Don’t use exercise for punishment

Another extreme reaction to overeating is to over exercise in an attempt to compensate for the calories. There’s a misconception that burning more calories than came in will somehow negate what you ate. But does that feel good in your body? Are you enslaving yourself to the gym or running miles and miles? If it doesn’t feel good in your body, don’t do it. Instead, choose to move your body in a way that helps you feel better. Maybe it’s a hike with your loved ones or a walk in fresh air. Maybe it’s doing nothing at all and just taking it easy. Your body will still know how to help you re-calibrate without overdoing the exercise.

5. Engage in activities that feel good

When you feel bad in your body, there is a tendency to want to crawl in a hole and keep your head buried in the sand. You may feel like isolating yourself or staying away from doing things you love. But this will only perpetuate the negative cycle and cause those bad feelings to fester more. If you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable, this is all the more reason you need to engage in things that fill up your cup and help you come back to the surface for air. Plan on doing a fun activity with your kids, spouse, or friends (ideally one that doesn’t revolve around food). Get outside for some fresh air, read a good book or watch a movie. Distracting with enjoyable activities can prevent self-wallowing. This may be a good time to take a break from social media as well.

At the end of the day, remember it was just one meal. Don’t make the situation worse by unnecessarily punishing yourself - you don’t deserve to treat yourself in this way. We are meant to enjoy food; not be controlled by it.

So if you find yourself in this scenario, take a deep breath. Feeling overly full does not mean you’ve instantly gained weight or make you less worthy as a human being. Fullness is simply a temporary sensation that will soon dissipate. Your body is well equipped to deal with fullness, and it will get you through this.

Focus on the next right thing you can do to give yourself the kindness and respect you deserve. You can absolutely trust your body to help you navigate meal experiences where you may have eaten more than you needed. Trust that you will be okay. Your body will thank you, and you’ll be glad you did.

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