Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! That time of year when you feel that your indulgence is somewhat justified and the guilt for everything you ate is mitigated by the tradition of the holiday. If I just described you, don’t be alarmed. You are certainly not alone. Thanksgiving is a prime day for rationalizing indulgences for people who may otherwise feel guilty about blowing their diet. Recent research finds that people typically rely on six different explanations to justify eating (a lot of) unhealthy foods1, all of which are relevant to Thanksgiving dinner:
- Availability of unhealthy food: Unhealthy foods abound and are difficult to avoid. Those green beans just pale in comparison to the mashed potatoes.
- Intentions to compensate for the unhealthy eating in the near future: You make firm plans to exercise regularly for the next week and to limit your consumption of leftovers.
- Indulgence as an exception to the norm: Thanksgiving is just one day a year, after all. You never eat pumpkin pie or dessert, for that matter. And when was the last time you had your uncle’s stuffing?
- Feeling deserving of the unhealthy food: Related to all of the above and then some. You have been eating healthy foods consistently lately, and you just got a promotion at work. Plus, having to interact with some of your extended family makes you feel deserving of any prize.
- Curiosity-compelled indulgence: I don’t know exactly what this cookie is, but it looks and smells delicious. I have to try it!
- Irresistibility of the foods: Who can turn down sweet potato casserole? Everything smells fantastic!
Honestly, indulging occasionally shouldn’t have to be guilt-inducing. Thanksgiving is a special occasion involving atypical foods and eating companions who may live far away. The act of eating is social and pleasurable and should be enjoyed. However, if you’re someone who finds that the holidays are a more permanent setback for your health goal, you are not doomed. Strategies exist for maintaining your health goals and still enjoying (yes!) your Thanksgiving meal. Check out this Slate article for some tips by Brian Wansink, an expert food researcher, on how to manage your eating.
Did the researchers miss any justifications? What have you noticed at previous Thanksgiving meals?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
1 Taylor, Webb, & Sheeran. (2013). ‘I deserve a treat!’: Justifications for indulgence undermine the translation of intentions into action. British Journal of Social Psychology.
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