Guilt and shame do not belong at the Thanksgiving table. Gratitude should be the focus, enveloped into a joyous eating experience that is rich in tradition and all the good things meant for the holiday. No calorie counting or "lightening-up" needed.

When did we decide that this celebratory meal was somehow the enemy? With this idea, all the joy quietly left the table and along with it went the full-fat mashed potatoes. And joy was replaced with talk of calories; weight gain and obligatory exercise and your great aunt's stuffing recipe became the devil incarnate.

It stops here. It's time to take back our beloved holiday, this from a person that takes nutrition and her health very seriously. We all need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of a few things.

  1. It's a meal. One meal, or even several for that fact, does not define your health, your lifestyle or your ability to stay connected to your overall wellness intentions. Treat this meal like you would any other, it helps to take some of power away.
  2. Leave the diet lingo at the door. Thanksgiving isn't a cheat day because cheat days don't exist in a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Your grandmom doesn't care that the sweet potatoes are "good carbs" and the stuffing isn't, or is it? Yes, there's real sugar in the pie and there's no need to shame your cousin for it. In other words, swap the negative food talk and body-shaming for more joyful conversations; politics, maybe?
  3. Forget the idea of good food versus bad food. Food is food. Sure, some foods are more nourishing than others but that doesn't mean we cannot enjoy all of them. Especially when it comes to traditional foods that are steeped in emotion and meaning. The thing is, when we label a food "bad" we become obsessed with it. Instead, give yourself permission to enjoy all foods. You might also remind yourself that you can eat turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes at any time throughout the year. This helps to diminish the fear of famine, which fuels this particular feast.
  4. Taste your food. When we enter a meal with guilt and shame we pretty much check out of the experience. Instead, saddle up to the Thanksgiving table and commit, as best you can, to savoring your favorite dishes. Love the green bean casserole? Take your time to really taste it. You'll be amazed how satisfied you'll feel.
  5. Eat the real thing. Speaking of satisfaction, if you lighten things up or choose a "healthier" option due to self-imposed food shaming, you aren't doing yourself any favors. You are simply depriving yourself of satisfaction. Then, your hand ends up in the cookie jar when you could have simply savored the food you really wanted and moved on blissfully. So, use the butter and the cream and the sugar, if you enjoy it. For those of you with a need for dietary restrictions, modifications to recipes can help, just make sure you still enjoy your creations.
  6. You might overeat. And that's okay. It's one meal. On one day. Perfection doesn't exist so stop striving for it. You won't grow out of your favorite pair of jeans or topple the scale because of it. You don't have to run 10 miles or punish yourself with a grueling workout at the gym. And please, refrain from the post-meal commiserating around how fat you feel – that type of negative self-take is horrible for your self-esteem and for the kids overhearing it. Instead, compassionately accept that you feel a bit bloated and uncomfortable, and recognize that this will pass. It's not life threatening. If you feel compelled to move your body, do so because it feels good, not as punishment.

For many of us, these are new concepts to learn. But they're worth it. You'll learn to slow down and to taste each bite. You'll learn which foods make you feel good and which put up a fight. You'll learn that your self-worth is not measured by a number on a scale or your ability to adhere to a diet. Most importantly, you'll learn gratitude. Gratitude for the food that adorns your table. Gratitude for each bite, because you'll actually enjoy them. Gratitude for yourself as this is a lesson in trust, self-love and compassion.

Katie Cavuto MS, RD, is a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian and wellness advocate. Katie is the dietitian for the Philadelphia Flyers and Phillies, and author of the cookbook “Whole Cooking and Nutrition.” For recipes and wellness tips visit her blog at katiecavuto.com.