As the holidays approach, the guilt of overindulging is never too far behind. And as great as it is to fit a workout in before the Thanksgiving feast, how many of us approach exercise that day as a means to grant ourselves permission to that extra helping of mashed potatoes and gravy?

Unsurprisingly, gyms capitalize on it. Come November, their sales pitch becomes pointedly set on encouraging—or, shall we say, guilting—prospective members to buy gym memberships in order to stave off the weight gain (why wait until New Year’s when you’re just going to feel even more guilty by then?).

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to exercise prior to a holiday splurge, exercising in response to guilt may work at first, but it’s not all that motivating to sustain. To counteract this, Women’s Health has spurred a burgeoning trend: #GuiltFreeFitness. As they put it: “Fitness isn’t about punishing yourself for eating indulgent foods (or earning the right to enjoy them in the first place). It’s not about torturing yourself until your abs or biceps look a certain way. It’s about connecting with your body and doing something to nurture it. It’s about challenging yourself and learning that you’re capable of things you never thought possible. So let’s start acting like it.”


Science suggests they’re onto something. In fact, going about exercise guilt-free may bring about more desired results in the long run. According to a study conducted by Cornell University, researchers found that thinking about exercise as a “fun run” or a well-deserved break helped participants eat less later on. Meanwhile, participants who thought of their activity as obligatory exercise ate 35 percent more chocolate pudding for dessert and 206 more calories of M&Ms. Also, using guilt to get your kids to join you in that Turkey Trot won’t do any good either. Another study by the University of Georgia found that guilt didn’t prove successful in getting kids to exercise. Once again, the study’s takeaway is that emphasizing the “fun” element of an activity proves to be a better motivator.

So rather than go into a workout just to “make room” for the turkey or to make up for overindulging the night before, choose an exercise that you enjoy to do. And then think about all the positive reasons why you want to do it, whether it be for the increased energy, a sharper mind or a longer life.



  1. Women’s Health Magazine: Let’s All Start a Fitness Revolution by Making This Important Pledge
  2. Cornell University Food and Brand Lab: Fun or Exercise?
  3. Science Daily: ‘Guilting’ teens into exercise won’t increase activity