This post is the second in our four-part series How to navigate the silly season with aplomb: four strategies that will make the holidays feel welcome and well-balanced. Today we’re talking about how to avoid overeating when every meal feels like a feast and tantalizingly tasty treats are left lying around the house. Let’s dive in.
- Eating without a physiological need to do so (you’re not hungry nor do you need that food for energy)
- OR eating too much during one meal or eating period.
We have all done this from time to time, but when it becomes chronic it becomes a problem. The side effects of regularly overeating don’t stop at an increased waist line; consuming excess calories taxes your digestive system, increases insulin production and leaves you feeling lethargic and irritable.
I used to say that the holidays — or any celebration meal really — provided a good enough reason to let loose and enjoy too much food. I’ve since realized that the opposite is true: the guilt and discomfort that comes with overeating detracts from our genuine enjoyment and fond memories of that special occasion.
With that said, here are ten practical tips to help you avoid overeating this season.
How To Avoid Overeating
Strategy One: Understand Your Triggers
Triggers are the people, foods, situations, surroundings, and emotions that occur before you overeat. You need to understand these triggers so that you can stop treating food as an enemy, a stimulant, a relaxant or a form of punishment.
While I know that it’s easy to blame our triggers for causing an episode of overeating, they actually aren’t the problem. The problem is how you choose to react to the trigger. And yes, I did say choose, and I know that might make you feel a little tetchy. As an ex-binge eater, I believed that I had no choice and no control over what I was doing. Yet we do have a choice. Your choice starts with deciding to eliminate food as a coping mechanism and dealing with your triggers, and the underlying issues that they arouse, in a different way.
You can do this using the Who, What, When, Where, Why framework. (Taking you back to third grade English? Me too!)
WHO: who are you with when you overeat or who were you with prior to overeating?
WHAT: what foods, flavors or textures do you have a hard time saying no to?
WHEN: what time of day do you tend to overeat, or is it connected to certain situations?
WHERE: do you overeat at home or when you are dining out?
WHY: what emotions, thoughts or physical feelings are you experiencing before and during this time?
Strategy Two: Acknowledge Your Core Craving
Find the recurring theme that threads through your answers from Strategy One.
- Perhaps you overeat after you’ve left work, when you are home alone at night, generally feeling isolated.
- Maybe it’s in the afternoon when you are at work, you’re swamped with emails or other demands, you already feel stressed and keep thinking about the chores that await you at home.
- Or possibly it’s when you’re feeling anxious in a social situation and you keep picking at the snack table as a way to avoid small talk.
Strategy Three: Create New Coping Strategies
The next step is to create new coping strategies for whenever a trigger presents itself.
- If you’re feeling lonely: call a friend, play Scrabble or Chess online, join a book club, go out to a museum or a movie, write in a journal, join a gym class…
- If you’re stressed at work: schedule mini-breaks throughout the day (take a walk or practice guided meditation), delegate tasks to a co-worker, set designated times for checking email, plan a relaxing after work activity, get up early to take “me time” before the day officially starts…
- If you’re feeling socially anxious: read this post, but also know that eating your anxiety only fuels the flames of self-doubt. Find healthier coping strategies like taking a pre-event recharge nap, journaling your emotions, attending intimate gatherings, asking a friend to join you, and reminding yourself that you have so much value and interest to give to others.
Strategies 1-3 are designed to help you find a long-term solution to overeating. Loneliness, stress and social anxiety are obviously not only applicable to the holidays, although they tend to be exacerbated at this time of year. Use these tips to continue to heal your relationship with food into the New Year.
The following strategies are practical “quick fixes” that you can call upon to keep over-indulgent behavior at bay.
Strategy Four: Don’t Get Too Hungry
It is hard to make smart decisions when your tummy is growling like a put-upon reindeer and your blood sugar levels have crashed. No matter how busy your schedule is at this time of year, it is essential that you make time to eat a proper breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and keep some healthy snacks on hand should you need to grab them.
Strategy Five: Enjoy What You Love
Here’s an unorthodox suggestion: if you really want something then you shouldn’t settle for a substitute. There’s no point in avoiding a slice of Christmas pudding if you end up eating half a box of low-fat cookies instead. Think about the foods that you are really interested in savoring at this time of year — those are the treats to serve yourself a portion of and truly enjoy it. And yes, a portion is what you put on a plate and sit down to eat…it’s risky business to go in for “just a bite”.
Avoid foods that don’t make this list — candy canes and run-of-the-mill store-bought chocolates aren’t worth the splurge.
Strategy Six: Rely On Inconvenience
Humans will avoid inconvenience at all costs. Not keeping certain foods in the house will make it a lot less likely that you will eat them because even if you really want something, you’ll likely not head out at 9 pm in your pajamas for it! With that said, don’t feel pressure to take home leftovers from friend’s dinner parties, and never feel bad about re-gifting edible treats that you don’t want to eat — let someone else appreciate them!
Strategy Seven: Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough water keeps your energy and mood elevated, flushes toxins from your body and actually helps curb sweet cravings. Aim for 8 cups a day and trying adding lemon, citrus, berries or apple cider vinegar for flavor.
Strategy Eight: Be Mindful
Last year I wrote about how to eat mindfully. In a nutshell, the eating process includes considering, looking, tasting, chewing and generally slowing down. Also, there are no points for being a member of the Clean Plate Society.
Strategy Nine: Choose Your Treat Time
Here’s the straight talk: you will physically feel a heck of a lot better if you avoid sugar during the holidays.
Here’s the real talk: I can appreciate why you might not be willing to do that, as I will be partaking in the sweet stuff too.
What you can do is designate your sugar consumption to one meal a day. If, like me, you love a wee spot of dessert, choose to say no thank you to afternoon candy or that pre-work flavored latte.
(Side note: can you guess how much sugar is in a Maple Pecan Latte from Starbucks? Tall: 35 grams; Grande: 45 grams; Venti: a whopping 56 grams — twice the daily recommended added sugar intake for an adult woman. This is not ok.)
Strategy Ten: Sleep
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are a quick source of energy; sleep is a sustained source of energy. When you get 7-9 hours of shut-eye every night you’ll find it a heck of a lot easier to judge how hungry you are, and what your body really needs to be eating.
These strategies are simple but powerful and I do hope that you’ll incorporate them into your lifestyle this holiday season. Next week we’ll be talking about managing stress as the end of the year comes to a close. Stay tuned!