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In Defense of Eating What You Want on Thanksgiving

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An old boyfriend of mine had a mom who practiced what she called Splurge Sundays. All week long, she watched her diet with an intensity matched only by Kim K. editing her photostream. It was the late '90s, and she supplemented her 80-calorie cappuccino yogurts and balsamic-dressed salads with Snackwells cardboard cookies and Diet Cokes. She ran three miles a day. She did Buns of Steel workout videos in the den. And she waited. She waited for Sunday.

Sunday was for splurging. That's when she had her gummi bears, peanut M&Ms, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Poof! went the bowl of fresh fruit in the middle of the kitchen table—replaced by something called Derby Pie, which from what I could tell was basically a pound of chocolate chip cookie dough baked inside a piecrust. God might have rested on Sunday, but my boyfriend's mom? She had work to do. Then Monday rolled around and she started the whole cycle again.

This might be a bit extreme, and the approach might not work for everyone. But the truth is, going hog wild every now and then doesn't mean disaster for your waistline.

"Having a cheat day isn't going to undo all of your hours in the gym or your normally healthy eating habits," says Los Angeles–based personal trainer PJ James, author of Take It Off, Keep It Off. "If you're putting in the hard yards throughout the year, you can enjoy yourself on Thanksgiving." Even if you manage to stuff 3,500 calories' worth of cookie dough pie in your face? Yep. "Just don't step on a scale yourself afterwards. Weight gain is different from fat gain and it will be gone by the next day."

Science backs James up: When University of Illinois at Chicago researchers taught subjects how to diet on alternate days—eating only a 500-calorie lunch or dinner one day but whatever they wanted the next, for six months—they lost an average of two pounds a week. Basically, when people have a day of deliciousness to look forward to, it makes the sacrifice on the other days seem more palatable.

I'm not suggesting you spend half your week on a kale-and-ginger juice fast and half in a bona fide food coma. I'm just saying don't beat yourself up if you think the best way to honor the Pilgrims is by taking a bath in a vat of buttery mashed potatoes.

Of course, you could follow some commonsense rules like loading your plate with veggies and shrimp cocktail, choosing white meat over dark, and sampling the pumpkin pie instead of pecan. Or...don't. Forget the crudités. Drown your Brussels sprouts in bacon fat and salt. Make love to a biscuit. Your buns of steel will forgive you in the morning—I promise.