Every year, in the first few weeks of November, the headlines start coming: "9 Ways to Eat Smart This Thanksgiving," "How to Find Peace with Food This Thanksgiving," "The 20-Minute Thanksgiving Workout." Heck, even here at The Week we're offering up "8 tricks to surviving the holidays without gaining weight or being grouchy."
To these overbearing, preachy articles, I say: Stop. Leave me — and my deep-fried turkey and my mashed potatoes and my cherry pie and my two glasses of wine too many — alone. Thanksgiving is not about counting calories or doing 30 extra push-ups if you want to "be bad" and eat a slice of pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is not about loading your plate up with leafy greens, leaving but a tiny sliver of the china visible for "danger foods" such as casserole or — gasp! — stuffing.
History lessons aside, here is what Thanksgiving is for me: that rare holiday in which giving gifts is not expected, watching football for six hours is not frowned upon, and going back for thirds or even fourths is not judged but encouraged. Thanksgiving is a day when we can give in to that deadly sin of gluttony — and we should be able to do so without being admonished to drink more water and less beer.
Now, I'm not saying this should be an everyday mentality. Claims that Americans gain more than five pounds each holiday season are overblown; still, researchers have found that the average individual gains about a pound over the course of the holiday season. But guess what? That pound did not come solely from your wild decision to eat a few slices of pie on Thanksgiving. One day of indulging is not going to make or break your dieting or weight maintenance goals. And those same articles that label Thanksgiving a "cheat day" (which has to be one of the more passive-aggressive, guilt-tripping terms to enter our everyday vernacular) usually admit that limiting yourself too much all the time can trigger food binges later on.
So let me paint a rosy picture for you. During the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you eat in a health-conscious, normal way. Think foods that would get the all-clear from Michelle Obama, if not our nation's students. You get in a good dose of daily physical activity, whether it's walking to work, hitting the gym over your lunch hour, or playing with your kids in the evening.
And then, Thursday! Join me, fellow Americans, in waking up and lazing in sweatpants for several hours. Then, let us get ourselves together enough to greet family or friends, pour a glass of wine at noon (don't worry: this is Thanksgiving), and head for the table or buffet line. Here, let us load up on turkey — don't skimp on the gravy — move toward the mashed potatoes, hover over the stuffing, and dollop some sweet potatoes on top of it all.
Still hungry? Me neither, but it's time for dessert! Whether you select pecan, pumpkin, cherry, or some other variety, be sure to give yourself a double slice, the better to drift into a food coma only slightly alleviated by your competing sugar high. At this point, it's only about 2 p.m., which means you should settle into whatever square of the couch you can find and stare at your similarly soporific relatives. We'll do it all over again in a couple of hours.
On Friday, you can get back to your regularly scheduled programming. You can pass on a cup of eggnog at that holiday party, sign up for an extra gym class in December, and pick up a salad instead of a burger for lunch. But give in to Thanksgiving, and don't do a half-assed job of it. Go big. Forget that fun run you were considering, ditch the plan to eat a bunch of brussels sprouts, and embrace one day of the year when it's perfectly fine to revel in overindulgence.
And pass me another helping of pie while you're at it.