5 Ways to Stop the Holiday Overindulging (that aren't "Use Your Self-Control"!)

We're at the peak of THAT season again. Comfort food season. Holiday food fav smorgasbord season. Last-chance-before-it-all-ends-come-Jan-1sts-diet season.

Obviously, enjoying the fruits of our favorite Christmas baking traditions isn't inherently bad or wrong. (Ok, "fruits" of our baking... who am I kidding? And fruitcake is not actually a real food, right?) 

Holiday feasting and indulging are ways of partaking in a wider social display of love, appreciation, celebration + joy.

Many of us (esp if we're Moderators) can bake trays of sprinkled sugar cookies and chocolate-dipped pretzels and give away most of these to family and friends, "taste-testing" only a few. And this doesn't warp our joy into guilt, expand our waistlines, or worsen our personal health issues.

But others of us (esp those who are Avoiders or Maximizers) just can't seem to indulge in the normal way others can. We're more likely to eat most (or all) of the cookies or fudge or "healthy" seasoned nuts we intended "to give away to others. Or we make separate batches for ourselves that we demolish (though we tell ourselves we won't). Our guilt, waistlines, and personal health issues blow up quickly.  

Even neuroscience has confirmed that our tastebuds and brain reward-center chemicals get a short bliss-hit "high" from indulging, esp in sugar + fat -- i.e., all our fav holiday treats (I'm personally plagued by the "gimme all the kinds of pies AND triple chocolate fudge AND sugar-buttered lefse AND Hershey Kiss peanut blossom cookies AND peppermint cheesecake you have, STAT" disease).

But after indulging, we're left somehow paradoxically hungry(er) and empty(er). 

Which is how it's almost too easy to slip into the ol' seasonal pattern: the constant grazing, eating and overindulging in heavy comfort foods, sugary treats, and holiday feast foods... for weeks, even months. 

Turns out, eating more of our "happy" foods still doen't fill us... or make us very happy. It usually gives us a food coma and/or a food hangover. It doesn't expand our joy or keep our minds, hearts or bellies full of that warm, visceral feeling of love + connection we so crave, esp around the holidays. Because -- bad news -- that's not food's job.  

How can we stave off (at least some of) the excess holiday overeating without "just saying no" to food? Here's a few ideas:

 

1. Don't "Save Up For" 

Skipping meals (or parts of meals) with the intention of "saving up for" or making "more room" before forthcoming holiday dinners or parties might seem like a good idea, but as a nutritionist, I can tell you that it's perhaps the biggest mistake I see people making when it comes to holiday eating.

This mentality often has both physical and mental rebound effects. Physically, this includes a state of increased hunger, blood sugar spikes/crashes, and a lowered metabolism -- all the perfect setup for binge eating later on (with/without the actual intent to do so).

Plus, it creates a generally unhelpful mental effect -- the mentality of "I deserve to make up for what I've been deprived of." And this mindset often ends up in overcompensating.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:  Even if you have a holiday dinner or party later on in the day, eat a sensible, healthy meals before. Keep your metabolism high, your blood sugar stable, and your stomach filled, and you'll be better set up to not overeat.

 

2. DON'T GET ON THE GUILT + SHAME "I've BLOWN IT" TRAIN

If you do indulge or overeat, the worst thing you can do is let it dictate your self-esteem, emotions and next actions.

Often, misplaced guilt + shame set in the second after we've taken an indulgent bite or feel like we've overeaten. The moment the misplaced guilt + shame sink in is a critical one to try to recognize -- if possible, we should not to let the desperate and misleading thoughts that come next dictate our self-esteem, emotions or next actions. Often, these thoughts fall along the lines of: "well, you blew it / you fell off the "good" eating wagon / you screwed up big time, again ... might as well JUST KEEP EATING ... it doesn't even matter anymore" etc. This is the critical point where a less-harmful episode of indulging or overeating can suddenly turn into an all-out binge or series of binges.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:  It's best to recognize that food and eating aren't moral issues that indicate our worth as people. Our struggles with food and our helpful/unhelpful food choices do not indicate whether we are good/bad people, so if the voices of guilt/shame are telling us otherwise, we might try to rightfully focus on the truth. If we are able to, we might also consider that while we may have made some unhelpful food choices, this does not mean we have to continue to do so, and it's nonsensical to use unhelpful past choices as an excuse for future ones.

 

3. DON'T "MAKE UP FOR"

If you do indulge or overeat, the worst thing you can do is try to "make up for" it.

Skipping meals (or parts of meals) after holiday dinners or parties might also seem like a good way to "make up for" indulging or overeating, but it's another mistake I see people making when it comes to holiday eating that has the same, if not tougher, rebound effects as #1.

When someone indulges or overeats and then cuts food intake drastically to "make up for" it, they experience a similar state of increased hunger, blood sugar spikes/crashes, and a lowered metabolism as #1. And again, this often leads to another overcompensation... perpetuating the cycle of binge eating and fasting.

Plus, it creates a couple unhelpful mentalities, such as: "I'll eat what I want now, and work it off later" and even "I have to work off every (extra) bite I eat." Neither of these mentalities tend to work out well in the long run.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: If you've indulged or overeaten, recognize it's in the past. Instead of dwelling on the past by trying to "make up for" it, just do the next right thing at the next right time -- i.e., eat a sensible, healthy meal when it's time to eat next. This will keep your metabolism high, your blood sugar stable, your stomach filled, and you're brain + body on the right track to not continue the yo-yo over/undereating cycle.

 

4. Don't Feel Obligated

Just because there's food out or offered doesn't mean we have to eat it. We don't have to taste every food at the party. 

I think a least a portion (ha!) of holiday indulging and (over)eating can be out of a feeling of undue obligation.

How often do we get together and indulge or (over)eat because there happens to be food offered and we feel like we "should" eat to be polite? Or even because we feel social pressure or social anxiety? This seems to be even more prevalent around the holidays.

I realize that in some circles, it's considered weird -- if not downright rude -- to not try at least a bite of everyone's dish, or to be "picky" when it comes to eating/not eating certain foods. Other people might not understand why we (need to) make certain food choices, and that's ok -- we're also not obligated to explain. 

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:  We should never feel obligated to politely taste foods that disrupt our physical, mental and/or emotional well-being. If we aren't hungry or hadn't planned on eating and/or we don't see quality, healthy choices available, we might consider focusing on people, rather than food -- by serving, cleaning up, or interacting with others.

 

5. BRING SOMETHING BETTER

We don't have to bring the same dish we bring every year, or eat the same ol' holiday foods that we know will be available every year.

I think many of us are afraid to mess with tradition. Especially holiday food traditions. There's this odd, grandiose, cemented expectation of what foods "must" be served at holiday parties -- but this expectation is nothing more than a totally imaginary and subjective construct. We're not bound to it.

There's also this element of scarcity -- as if it's our one-and-only, last chance to have certain foods... at least for another whole year. Which probably isn't even true. Un/fortunately, there's very few foods that aren't accessible to us 365 days of the year. 

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD:  For holiday gatherings where we're expected to bring that one dish (you know, the one we bring every year), we might consider switching it up and bringing something different. Or we might try modifying it to make it a bit healthier. Or we might choose to bring a second, healthier dish, and let everyone else eat the expected one. 

(For what it's worth, I suggest being the rebel who starts new, healthier food traditions!)