Was your Thanksgiving marred by overindulging? Don’t lose hope if you’re trying to eat healthfully over the holidays. There are several ways you can still enjoy food at holiday celebrations without overeating.
“Many people assume it’s unavoidable to gain weight over the holidays,” said Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in California. She said that gaining weight during the holidays doesn’t have to be the case with a little mindfulness and planning.
Here are a few tips on how to approach eating over the holidays, especially if you intend to eat healthfully during the season — and all year long.
“Never go to a party hungry,” Bennett told Healthline. She advises people to eat a small meal that includes protein before leaving home. “Protein helps to balance blood sugar, so without it in your system, you’ll find yourself heading to the dessert table first,” she said.
Bennett said that staying hydrated is vital to avoid overeating because people often mistake hunger for thirst. “Drink a full glass of water with that small meal, and you’ll set yourself up for success,” she said.
When you’re at the smorgasbord mulling over all the foods that appeal to you, remember to stay conscious.
“If you decide to eat something, do it slowly and deliberately, tasting and chewing every bite,” Bennett noted. “A sign that you’re eating ‘unconsciously’ is when you hardly remember eating the item.”
If you eat mindlessly, you won’t be able to savor the delicious tastes of the food, and you’ll be left with only the extra calories that linger.
If you try to start a diet before the holidays, restricting calories and meals ahead of a celebration — so you can ultimately pig out — that probably won’t work.
“It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to tell our stomach it’s full, so taking a few minutes between servings can help prevent overeating,” Avital Schwartz, RD, a Sinai Hospital of Baltimore dietitian, told another publication.
We may feel full and happy the more we swallow, but it’s taste that is satisfying. With that in mind, don’t rush the foods you choose to eat. “Take your time to eat a little of each chosen food and savor it, rather than gulping and missing most of the pleasure,” she said. “A smaller amount can be much more enjoyable than a large one, and it leaves room for tasting more goodies without the stomachache.”
Some people try to avoid overeating while others use this time of year to lose weight.
But instead of attempting to shed pounds amidst all the temptation, you may be better off working to maintain your weight instead. “Trying to lose weight during this time can be very difficult and discouraging, so we recommend participants maintain their weight until January, which is a more practical time to focus on weight loss efforts,” said Madison Johnson, MA, communication coordinator for the Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less program out of North Carolina State University.
The program offers a free challenge with the goal of helping people maintain their weight during a tough time of the year. The program delivers weekly newsletters with tips, recipes, and more to the inboxes of participants. More than 37,500 people from 50 states are taking part in it.
“If you do overindulge, forget about it and move on,” said Stephanie McKercher, a registered dietitian and food blogger at Grateful Grazer.
“One of the biggest ways people get stuck in a rut over the holidays is by beating themselves up after one or two less-than-healthy indulgences,” McKercher said. Creamy dips and frosted cookies are part of the holiday experience, so if you have too many, don’t go too hard on yourself.
“Instead of calling yourself a failure, try to reframe your thoughts to consider what you learned and how you can set yourself up for healthier choices in the future,” she said. “Feeling guilty over food is never the answer.”